Sperm whale found dead off Cape Breton after swallowing 150 kg of fishing gear

Sperm whale found dead off Cape Breton after swallowing 150 kg of fishing gear

Marine mammal experts were shocked to find a sperm whale off Cape Breton, N.S., recently died with 150 kilograms of fishing gear in its stomach.

A necropsy last week found the whale had swallowed rope, nets, bait packaging and even a glove.

The Marine Animal Response Society says the finding highlights the serious issue of garbage and so-called ghost fishing gear in the oceans.

“I’ve never personally seen that much of any sort of debris or whatnot in an animal that we’ve opened up before,” Tonya Wimmer, the society’s executive director, told Information Morning Cape Breton.

The 14-metre-long male was found alive on Nov. 4, but looking thin, near the shore in Craigmore, which is near Judique on the west side of Cape Breton.

It later died and washed ashore down the coast.

Society executive director Tonya Wimmer says it’s not uncommon to find plastics inside a marine mammal’s stomach, but in this case the amount, shown above, was upsetting. (Submitted by the Marine Animal Response Society)

Wimmer said sperm whales are particularly vulnerable to garbage in the ocean.

“They feed by sort of vacuuming in squid and whatnot, usually at depth and so with these animals, they basically can sort of vacuum in and ingest other things that are down on the sea floor,” she said.

It’s not uncommon to find plastics inside animals’ stomachs, but in this case the amount was upsetting, Wimmer said.

“It eventually leads to the animal not being able to feed and sadly, it’s essentially starving to death, which is completely horrific.”

Wimmer said the next task is to try and figure out exactly what was in the whale’s stomach and where it came from, which may prove difficult because the tangled mass had been inside the whale for some time.

The society says so-called ghost fishing gear that has been abandoned or lost and other waste are an increasing problem for the oceans. 

The federal government has already spent nearly $27 million on ghost gear cleanups and recently announced another $28.4 million will be available for individuals or organizations that want to help.

‘Bad for the environment’

Cape Breton-Canso Liberal MP Mike Kelloway, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, said an additional $1.5 million has already been allocated to collecting gear tossed along the coast in September by post-tropical storm Fiona.

“The ghost gear is obviously a hardship for those that lose it, that can’t reuse it, and also it’s bad for the environment,” he said.


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