Viewers of the BBC’s Blue Planet II have vowed “never” to use plastic again after a pilot whale was filmed carrying her deceased calf, who is believed to have died as a result of plastic contamination.
The powerful scene in the hit BBC nature documentary, which aired on Sunday evening, led many to question the impact human waste is having on the environment - and the animals who live in some of the most remote places on earth.
The calf is suspected to have died after being poisoned by his mother’s contaminated milk.
David Attenborough, who is narrating Blue Planet II, told the BBC audience: “In top predators like these, industrial chemicals can build up to lethal levels.
“And plastic could be part of the problem. As plastic breaks down, it combines with these other pollutants that are consumed by vast numbers of these marine creatures.
“It’s possible that her calf may have been poisoned by her own contaminated milk.
“Pilot whales have big brains. They can certainly experience emotions. Judging from the behaviour of the adults, the loss of the infant has affected the entire family.
“Unless the flow of plastics and industrial pollution into the world’s oceans is reduced, marine life will be poisoned by them for many centuries to come.”
The footage led many to question their own use of plastic.
Blue Planet II also showed animals such as sea turtles tangled in discarded plastic floating in the sea.
Around 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, Attenborough said.
The government has indicated that a takeaway box tax will be considered to help tackle the issue of plastic waste.
Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to announce a call for evidence in Wednesday’s Budget on tackling and charging single-use plastics to help prevent pollution in the world’s oceans.
This means that plastic packaging, polystyrene takeaway boxes and other single-use plastics could be taxed to tackle waste.
The move forms part of the government’s 25-year environment strategy and comes after the introduction of the plastic carrier bag charge and a ban on microbeads.
On Friday, wildlife expert Ben Fogle made a personal plea to rid the oceans of plastic waste, which is “killing sea creatures and tainting food”.
He said that plastic had been found in the stomachs of sea creatures living six miles below the surface, calling this a “terrifying” statistic.
“But it is hardly surprising when you consider there’s an estimated 300 million tonnes of plastic sloshing around in our seas — often completely invisible to the naked eye.
“Up to 12 million tonnes of the stuff ends up in our oceans every year — that’s a rubbish truck full every minute,” Fogle writes.
“The only real way to avoid plastic getting into the sea is not addressing how we dispose of it, but by using less of it in the first place.
“It’s a ticking health and environmental timebomb.”