A young sperm whale found washed up on a Welsh beach died with a piece of plastic sheeting inside its stomach.
The 6.7-metre (22ft) male calf was initially discovered at Hell’s Mouth, close to Abersoch, Gwynedd, and is believed to be the first sperm whale to wash up on a Welsh beach since records began in 1913.
Sadly, the mammal passed away on the evening of Tuesday, October 29, with a post-mortem examination revealing several pieces of marine debris had been inside the animal’s stomach at the time of its death. One of these pieces included a ‘large piece of blue plastic sheeting’.
Rob Deaville, project manager for the Zoological Society of London’s Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, told BBC News:
It is not possible to accurately assess whether the ingestion of debris was a result of the whale’s presence in the abnormal habitat of shallow waters around the UK, or if other underlying issues may have played a role in their ingestion.
However, it may have had some impact on the animal’s ability to digest any ingested prey. A large piece of blue plastic sheeting was found in the stomach and a relatively large mass of ropes.
Experts also found a fishing line inside the stomach, as well as ‘other plastic fragments, seaweed and minor nematode parasites’. The debris had not, however, become impacted, which would have created a blockage to the stomach.
Experts remain puzzled as to how the malnourished and underweight whale ended up in the UK’s shallower waters, Wales Online reported.
Sperm whales usually live out their lives in warmer, southern waters, where they can feast upon giant squid. Experts are now conducting tests they hope will unravel the mystery of how this young whale ended up in the shallows of Hell’s Mouth.
Due to the size of the whale – the second smallest sperm whale on record in the UK – it’s believed to have come from a matriarchal pod, usually found in the more temperate southern waters of the UK.
A British Divers Marine Life Rescue spokesperson believes this could well be the youngest whale calf on record to become stranded on UK shores, ITV reported.
The calf, which is estimated to be between two and three years of age, had not yet developed teeth and had likely still been surviving on its mother’s milk.
The spokesperson said:
Whales, dolphins and porpoises…are mammals like us humans, and therefore able to carry serious diseases that can be transmitted between us.
We would advise members of the public to avoid all contact with the carcass and any bodily fluids to avoid any risk of infection from them. There is the possibility that this may have been an animal that was already ill.
Less than a month ago, a sperm whale washed up and died in shallow waters off the Northumberland shore, close to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.