220-lb. 'Litter Ball' Found Inside a Dead Sperm Whale's Belly

Mindy Weisberger Fisheries & Aquaculture Plastics & Pollution

220-lb. 'Litter Ball' Found Inside a Dead Sperm Whale's Belly

When workers with a whale strandings agency in Scotland performed a necropsy on a recently beached sperm whale, they found a gruesome surprise: The animal had died with around 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) of trash in its stomach.

The young male sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) washed ashore on Nov. 28 at Luskentyre beach in Scotland's Outer Hebrides islands. It died shortly thereafter, a representative with the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS), part of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) in Aberdeen, wrote on Facebook on Dec. 1.

Fishing nets, rope bundles, tubes and an assortment of plastic garbage formed a compact mass — a so-called litter ball — inside the 20-ton whale, "and some of it it looked like it had been there for some time," according to the post.

Because whales' skin and blubber insulate them so effectively, bacteria inside a whale corpse can multiply quickly even when air temperatures are low. As the bacteria help to decompose the remains, they produce gases that then build up pressure inside the body, and the sperm whale on the Scottish beach was no exception — it "sort of exploded" upon investigation, according to the Facebook post.

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