Sperm whale found dead on Scottish island with 100kg 'litter ball' in stomach

Bronwen Weatherby
Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme

A young sperm whale has washed up dead on a Scottish island with a 100kg 'litter ball' of fishing nets, ropes and plastic cups inside its stomach.

The 26-tonne whale was discovered stranded on Seilebost Beach on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides where it had died shortly after beaching itself.

Huge amounts of marine debris was found in the 14-metre whale's body.

The grim discovery was made when a necropsy was performed on the whale by the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (Smass).

Workers for the scheme described the mass exploding from the whale's body as they began to cut it open.

Then a variety of plastic items, including bags, cups and tubes were found before coils of rope and fishing nets were retrieved from inside the carcass.

Whale experts said it is not immediately clear whether the debris contributed to the whale's death.

But locals who found the animal called the scene "desperately sad".

Section of fishing net swallowed somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean (Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme)

Dan Parry, from nearby Luskentyre, said: "It was desperately sad, especially when you saw the fishing nets and debris that came out of its stomach.

"We walk on these beaches nearly every day and I always take a bag to pick up litter, most of which is fishing-related.

"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."

Smass, an organisation that investigates the deaths of whales and dolphins, said on its 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.

The whale has now been buried on the beach (Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme)

"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."

The whale was buried by the Smass workers with help from the Western Isles Council and the Coastguard in a giant hole in the beach

The plastic found in the giant animals stomach was from both land and fishing industries and could have been swallowed anywhere in the Atlantic Ocean.

According to the group's figures strandings such as this are on the increase with 204 reports in 2009, rising to more than 930 in 2018.