An innocent Pilot whale washed up dead on a beach in Thailand last week.
The cause? It ate 80 plastic bags. 17 pounds worth. Because the ocean is filling up with plastic.
The whale drifted into a canal, listless and obviously stricken with illness. Veterinarians rushed in and tried to help, caring for the mammal for five days. The whale, understandably, puked out a bunch of plastic bags and died on Friday.
Pilot whales, like lots of other marine animals, eat squid, octopus, and other sea creatures that float in a generally wave-y fashion through the sea. Clearly, this whale mistook the bags for food.
"We have no idea how many animals aren't showing up on a beach," Regina Asmutis-Silvia from the group Whale and Dolphin Conservation told Nat Geo. "This is one pilot whale, this doesn't consider other species. It's symbolic at best, but it's symbolic of an incredibly significant problem.
This isn't exactly a new development in the sea animal world. Fish and marine mammals repeatedly ingest plastic that ends up in the ocean. It's been reported that within 35 years, there will likely be more plastic than fish, by weight, in all the world's seas.
When you eat fish, you ingest minute particles of plastic too, by the way. It's inescapable. 18 million pounds of plastic end up in the ocean every year. Every. Single. Year. The 18 million pounds that find their way into the seas this year will mostly be there next year too. And the year after that. Added to the 18 million pounds that are added those years too. It boggles the mind.
A massive, massive problem that we're still only barely beginning to understand and one that seems impossible to meaningfully address at the personal level. Although, as I write this, I look around the coffee house and see people everywhere with disposable cups topped with plastic lids, people drinking from plastic disposable bottles, using plastic straws they don't need. I’m typing on a plastic keyboard too. Dammit.
Good time to remind everybody World Oceans Day is June 8. We should really treat the ocean like we love it.