As if we needed more evidence that polluting our oceans with plastic is horrible for marine life, a sperm whale was just found dead with 13 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Discovered on Monday in the waters of Kapota Island in Indonesia, the 31-foot long carcass was in an advanced state of decay, making it impossible to know the degree to which plastic caused the death. It’s safe to say, however, that it didn’t do the whale any favors. According to a tweet from WWF Indonesia, the whale’s carcass contained 19 pieces of hard plastic, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, two flip-flops, 115 plastic cups, and seven pounds of string.
Dwi Suprapti, marine species conservation coordinator at WWF Indonesia, told the Associated Press, “Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful.” In a similarly tragic situation, a pilot whale off the coast of Thailand died this past June after swallowing over 17 pounds of plastic.
According to reporting by NPR’s Christopher Joyce, Indonesia is the second-largest producer of plastic pollution in the oceans, behind China. The Indonesian government is taking steps to reduce the use of plastic, such as encouraging shops to avoid using plastic bags, and educating students on the importance of recycling. Its goal is to reduce plastic waste by 70 percent by 2025, but there’s still a long way to go.
Larger plastic items like bottles and bags may be easier to quantify, but it’s smaller plastics that pose the more prevalent threat. Joyce reported that many plastics break down into tiny microplastics, which are ever-present in “oceans, rivers, and lakes. They’re also in soil…And, even more concerning, microplastics are in drinking water. In beer. In sea salt. In fish and shellfish.”