A juvenile sperm whale was found with 220 pounds of garbage packed inside its stomach after it beached itself and died on a northern Scottish island, researchers said Sunday.
Scottish marine researchers who conducted a necropsy on the creature after its death Thursday morning called the discovery on Luskentyre Beach both “stunning” and “shameful.” The items recovered from the whale’s stomach included bundles of rope and various plastic items such as netting, cups, bags gloves, packing strips and tubing.
“All this material was in a huge ball in the stomach and some of it it looked like it had been there for some time,” the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme, which collects and reports data from Scotland’s stranded marine animals and performed the necropsy, wrote in a Facebook post.
There was no evidence that the debris had prevented the animal from eating. However, the organization said the amount of trash found was “nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion, and serves to demonstrate, yet again, the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life. It is also perhaps a good example that this is a global issue caused by a whole host of human activities.”
Nick Davison, who works as the organization’s strandings report coordinator, described the trash haul as the largest the group has ever found.
“Fortunately debris like this is pretty rare,” he told HuffPost in an email Tuesday.
In addition to sharing photos of the massive amount of garbage collected, the group shared on Facebook a video of the whale’s body partially exploding after it was cut. This physical response was due to the warm temperature inside the whale’s insulated body helping speed up its decomposition, the group said.
The organization’s Facebook page has shared several stories of similar trash-related deaths along Scotland’s shores in recent months.
In October, the group alerted the public to the discovery of a beaked whale that had beached itself and died after becoming entangled in ropes and cords. Researchers believe it had been caught in them for weeks or even months before dying.
“It had been entangled for long enough that the cord had worked its way right through the skin and blubber layer into the underlying muscle layer. In some places the skin had actually grown over the top of the rope; in others it had set up a deep tissue infection and abscessation,” the organization wrote alongside a photo showing a green cord winding beneath more than an inch of the animal’s muscle.
A few days before that discovery, a pregnant adult female minke whale was also found washed up and dead after becoming tangled in fishing net, the organization reported.