Researchers on a Scottish island found disturbing items during a necropsy of a juvenile sperm whale: 220 pounds of land and sea debris.
The young male found himself stranded on the sands of Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris, which is located at the northwest corner of the Western Isles in Scotland.
His insides revealed an entangled ball of litter that dismayed responders with the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme, an organization that collects and analyzes data on stranded marine life native to Scotland, according to the organization’s Facebook page.
The young whale had ingested a large amount of refuse, including bundles of rope, plastic cups, bags and gloves. Examiners also found packing straps and tubing inside his stomach.
The adolescent whale could have swallowed the debris at any point between Norway and the Azores, an archipelago in the Mid-Atlantic, marine experts said.
Dan Parry, an administrator for the Facebook page that promotes plastic pickups on Luskentyre Beach, wrote that the 13-foot-long whale was starved to death as its intestines could no longer process food.
But the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme found that while the trash likely played a role in the whale’s death, it wasn’t the sole reason. A beachside necropsy didn’t show evidence that trash had impacted or obstructed his intestines.
The whale was in decent health despite its trash-filled gut, which partially exploded when cut.
Animals as large as the sperm whale are very well insulated, according to the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme. Even when temperatures are freezing or just above, the dead animal’s insides still run hot, causing rapid decay and even intestinal explosions.
Researchers are still looking into why the young whale ended up with so much trash in his system.
Members of the coast guard and the Western Isles Council Disposal team also contributed to the postmortem examination of the whale and his burial.
In January, Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme reported that 2018 was a record year for reported marine animal strandings in Scotland, rising from 204 reports in 2009 to 930 last year.
For Parry, the gruesome discovery of refuse in the whale is a reminder that keeping the oceans clean is everyone’s responsibility.
“The fishing industry need to do better, but equally, we all need to do more,” he wrote. “Watching this today, makes me despair for the environment, totally falling apart around us.”