Sperm whale found dead with 220-pound ‘litter ball’ in its belly

A sperm whale that died on the shores of Scotland was found with a 220-pound “litter ball” in its stomach.

The remains — stuffed with fishing nets, rope, packing straps, bags and plastic cups — were discovered Thursday on Seilebost beach in the Isle of Harris.

“It was desperately sad, especially when you saw the fishing nets and debris that came out of its stomach,” said local resident Dan Parry of Luskentyre, who told the BBC that he regularly carries a spare bag to “pick up litter” on his beach walks

“This stuff could have easily been netting or the like lost in a storm, we just don’t know, but it does show the scale of the problem we have with marine pollution,” he added.

The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS), a group that researches marine animal death and the reasons why dolphin and whales become stranded, dissected the specimen on Saturday in hopes of determining a cause of death. Their efforts, which included digging a burial site on the beach for the giant mammal, were supported by the Scottish coastguard and members from the local government council.

“The animal wasn’t in particularly poor condition, and whilst it is certainly plausible that this amount of debris was a factor in its live stranding, we actually couldn’t find evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines,” the group wrote Sunday on their Facebook page.

“This amount of plastic in the stomach is nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion, and serves to demonstrate yet again the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life,” they added.

The issue is becoming increasingly common, according to SMASS data. Last year alone saw a record-breaking 930 dolphin and whale strandings in Scotland, compared to a decade ago when just 204 cases were reported.

It’s unclear if the creature’s death was a result of the debris, experts say.

“All this material was in a huge ball in the stomach and some of it it looked like it had been there for some time,” SMASS wrote on Facebook. “The animal wasn’t in particularly poor condition, and whilst it is certainly plausible that this amount of debris was a factor in its live stranding, we actually couldn’t find evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines.”

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