A whale that was found clearly sick and in distress in the waters off Sotra, western Norway, last week has set off a national alarm over the dangers of plastics discarded at sea. After authorities decided to put the whale out of its misery, its stomach was found to be full of plastic bags and wrappings, and researchers think the whale actually starved to death.
Zoologists said the whale may have mistaken plastics for squid. Its fate promted Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen to declare that plastic “is probably the world’s fastest-growing environmental problem.” The Norwegian government is now forming a “national strategy for plastic,” in an effort to combat the dangers of plastic waste, especially at sea.
The plastics found in the whale’s stomach were “an international assortment of garbage,” said Terje Lislevand of the University of Bergen, from wrappings for a brand of “fresh chicken” to chocolate that was not produced in Norway. He said the whale’s unwitting consumption of plastics ultimately clogged its digestive system, making it impossible for the whale to take in nourishment.
Bjørn Einar Grøsvik of the Institute of Marine Research (Havforskningsinstitutt) in Bergen told local newspaper Bergens Tidende that seabirds have also been killed by plastics found in their stomachs or tied around their beaks so that they can’t eat. He said local bird nests have also been found to contain bits of plastic rope, nets and plastic wrap.
Norway’s long coastline is also regularly littered with plastic and other garbage drifting in from sea. Annual clean-ups are organized and Members of Parliament are calling on the government to take a more aggressive position against plastics both at home and in the international arena. China and Indonesia have been targeted as major offenders, but Norway is guilty as well, with what the Greens Party called “enormous consumption of fossil plastic.”