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Plastic bag beaches, kills rare whale in Fort Pierce

Posted: 11:50 PM, Jun 05, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-06 10:44:25Z
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Researchers at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute say a beached whale in Fort Pierce died as a result of ingesting plastic trash that kept the whale from being able to eat.

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Adam Schaefer, an epidemiologist, conducted the necropsy.

“It’s a larger [plastic] bag. But, it was folded up within the stomach and blocking the esophagus,” Schaefer said. “So essentially, the animal starved, which is why it was so emaciated.”

Schaefer said a kayaker discovered the 11-foot, 600-pound, young, female beaked whale beached in the mangroves near the Fort Pierce Inlet Sunday.

Beaked whales, according to FAU Harbor Branch Institute, are occasionally found along the coast of North America, typically in the Gulf Stream. They are one of the least known groups of mammals because of their deep water, offshore habitat. Population estimates for Beaked whales are not recorded because they are rarely seen. For a Beaked whale to be stranded in Florida waters is very unusual, experts with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute say.

“We’re always disappointed when we see a mortality that could be preventable. This is obviously human-induced,” Schaefer said.

Finding plastic products in animals that live far offshore shows the far-reaching impacts of our litter, Schaefer said.

“There’s been more and more reports even on the west coast, with FWC about a month ago, another animal had a stomach full of plastics. Unfortunately, it’s not just Florida. There’s been cases in Mexico. In the Mediterranean, an animal had a stomach full of plastic bags. So, this is really a global issue that we’re seeing right here on our doorstep,” Schaefer said.

He hopes the more people hear about the animals that suffer from plastic waste, the more people will reconsider how they dispose of their plastics.