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Officials make disturbing discovery after autopsying beached whale calf: ‘An unnecessary and tragic danger’

The calf was still nursing.

The calf was still nursing.

Photo Credit: iStock

A young whale calf washed up dead on a North Carolina beach late last month, and an autopsy determined that its death was caused by ingesting plastic.

What happened?

An 11-foot female Gervais’ beaked whale was found in the shallow waters off Emerald Isle on October 30. According to the New York Post, the carcass was taken to the North Carolina State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, where the autopsy uncovered that the mammal ate a balloon. 

The university center said that a plastic, star-shaped balloon was found “crumpled up and obstructing the passage of digesta to the rest of the gastrointestinal tract” in the otherwise healthy calf’s stomach.

The calf was still nursing, and researchers believe it starved to death over time due to the blockage.

Why is this concerning?

The university center noted that about 125 marine mammals wash up on beaches across North Carolina each year. Those mammals include whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and manatees.

Reasons for such strandings include natural causes, illnesses, and human interactions such as net entanglements, boat strikes, and plastic.

However, a beaked whale sighting is incredibly rare considering it is a large marine mammal that spends most of its time deep underwater. Per the New York Post, beaked whales “live deep in the ocean near the edge of the continental shelf and beyond.”

What can I do to help?

The university center suggested that people reconsider buying plastic or mylar balloons altogether when celebrating a birthday or commemorating a loved one. If such materials are purchased, they need to be disposed of properly.

“This can avoid them getting ‘loose’ and posing an unnecessary and tragic danger, causing wildlife to starve and perish over time, as in the case of this unfortunate Gervais’ beaked whale,” the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology said.

A viable alternative to plastic balloons would be biodegradable paper decorations. Green Eco-Friend put together a list of other eco-friendly options that could be useful for your future celebrations.

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