An 18-foot-long endangered whale shark washed ashore in Pamban South Beach, Tamil Nadu, India on Tuesday. Although experts said the whale shark died due to internal injuries from hitting a rock or large vessel, wildlife officials found plastic garbage–including a plastic spoon–in the animal’s digestive tract.
Wildlife ranger S Sathish, who examined the whale shark, told the The Times of India: “It is a stark revelation how plastic waste is getting into the marine eco-system. The marine species can’t distinguish between floating plastic and prey.”
The endangered whale shark is filter feeder, which eats by sucking water, plankton, and fish larvae into its mouth and filtering the water through the gills. Plastic pollution is an increasing threat as plastic debris in the world’s oceans outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1.
Plastic pollution harms wildlife when animals become entangled in plastic or they mistake it for food. Over 260 species, including invertebrates, turtles, fish, seabirds, and mammals, have been reported to ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, resulting in impaired movement and feeding, reduced reproductive output, lacerations, ulcers, and death.
33 percent of discarded plastic, such as cutlery, bags, cups, bottles, and straws, are used just once and thrown away. Learn how you can refuse single-use plastic.
Read more on how plastic straws harm wildlife.