A dead sperm whale found off the coast of southern Spain was killed after swallowing 29kg of rubbish.
A necropsy of the endangered marine mammal, which beached near a lighthouse in Cabo de Palos in the region of Murcia in February, found the mass of man-made waste, including bags, ropes, nets, raffia sacking and a drum, in its stomach and intestine.
The whale, a male juvenile measuring almost 10m in length, died because it was unable to digest or dislodge the mostly plastic materials and may have also suffered a rupture in its digestive system
A sperm whale’s diet usually comprises giant squid.
The discovery has prompted the regional government to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the danger of rubbish to marine animals.
Consuelo Rosauro, the Environment minister for Murcia’s regional government, said: “The presence of plastics in seas and oceans is one of the biggest threats to the conservation of wildlife in the world. Many animals get trapped in the rubbish or ingest great quantities of plastics, which end up causing their death.
“The Murcia region is no stranger to this problem that we must tackle by way of clean-up actions and above all, awareness of citizens.”
The necropsy of the whale was performed by a team at El Valle Wildlife Recovery Centre.
United Nations figures show 8 million tonnes of plastic - bottles, packaging and other waste - enter the ocean each year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain.
Scientists have urged tougher restrictions on plastic waste. In December, almost 200 nations agreed to limit plastic pollution of the oceans, warning it could outweigh fish by 2030.
Plastics which have been in the seas for a while may sink into the sea floor, or be torn up and gradually turned into microplastics. They can take hundreds of years to degrade.