A sperm whale that washed ashore in Indonesia was found to have 115 plastic cups, 25 plastic bags and a pair of flip flops in its stomach. This was alongside 1000 other lumps of plastic waste weighing around 6kg.
The discovery has caused concern among environmentalists from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and government officials about the extensive impact of human plastic pollution under the sea in the region.
The whale was discovered in the southeast province of Sulawesi (about 1600 kilometres north of tourist hotspot Bali) and was initially approached by villagers before rangers from the Wakatobi national park arrived.
Indonesia is the world’s second-largest source of plastic pollution after China, with a population of 260 million producing 3.2 million tonnes of plastic waste per year. The Associated Press reports 1.29 million tonnes of that waste ends up in the ocean.
The rescuers were not able to deduce the cause of the whale’s death, or attribute it directly to the plastic because of its advanced state of decay.
But Dwi Suprapti, a marine species conservation coordinator at WWF Indonesia, said that the facts were “truely awful” to see laid out in front of them.
Park chief Heri Santoso said the carcass, which was almost 10 metres long (31 feet), had been rotting and floated to the surface of the water where locals started deconstructing it.
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, coordinating minister of maritime affairs, said the whale’s discovery should raise public awareness about reducing plastic use, and spur the government to take tougher measures to protect the ocean.
“I’m so sad to hear this,” said Pandjaitan. “It is possible that many other marine animals are also contaminated with plastic waste and this is very dangerous for our lives.”
The Indonesian government has reportedly been making greater efforts to reduce the use of plastic, for example urging shops not to provide bags.
“This big ambition can be achieved if people learn to understand that plastic waste is a common enemy,” he told The Associated Press.