Ingestion by Marine Animals

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The Problem

Many marine animals inadvertently ingest ocean plastic pollution. Sometimes this is because the plastic pieces are mistaken for food, alternatively it may be because the animal has no choice but to consume them because of the huge concentrations that are in the water.

Once ingested the plastic pieces can cause blockage in the intestines of the animals which can result in an agonising death through starvation. Even if the animal does somehow manage to survive its quality of life is inevitably diminished. It will struggle to catch food, or escape predators and there is always a possibility that toxins in the plastic will enter the animal’s body, increasing its overall suffering.


Filter Feeders

Baleen whales and other filter feeders such as Manta Rays, Whale sharks and Basking sharks have no choice. When they feed their forward movement forces water into their mouths. Ideally this water should contain nutritious plankton and small fish that these huge fish need in enormous quantities to sustain themselves. However, with plastic pieces now outnumbering plankton in some parts of the ocean this is no longer the case. These animals have no choice but to eat the plastic pollution that we have thrown into the ocean.

Toothed Whales

Its not only Baleen whales that are susceptible to plastic pollution. Toothed whales have also been found to have consumed plastic and sometimes in vast quantities. Cuvier whales and Sperm whales are being found washed up dead on beaches and they have been found to have plastic inside their stomachs. Why they chose to eat the plastic is a mystery, but in the dark depths of they ocean where they feed perhaps it is a case of mistaken identity.

It’s a Jelly Bag!

The most well known case of mistaken identity. Green and Hawksbill turtles in particular love to eat jellyfish and it is well known that they mistake plastic bags for their favourite food. Because of the downward facing spines that line the intestines of a turtle, once consumed, the plastic bag only has one way to go. If the turtle doesn’t manage to pass it through the entire digestive system it will probably die.


Seabirds are at high risk

Seabirds are particularly susceptible to floating plastic pieces, but its a problem that affects the whole family. When young seabirds hatch it is time for Mum and Dad to go out fishing. Most fly many miles to catch food on, or just under the surface. They then take it back to the waiting chicks whose outstretch necks can’t wait. Unwittingly, the parents are not feeding their offspring fish and squid, but lego bricks and cigarette lighters. Nurdles, pre-production plastic pellets, look just like fish eggs! What could possibly go wrong?

It is estimated that 75% of seabirds in the world have ingested plastic at some time and that terrible figure is only likely to increase.