Earlier this year, 13 dead sperm whales were found washed up on a coast of Germany. The creatures died of acute cardiovascular failure, but it appears that the marine giants were also exposed to environmental pollution that poses similarly dangerous threats.
A necropsy on the animals conducted earlier this week revealed what may have also impacted their health. Researchers have found that the whales' stomach had an assortment of man-made materials.
The Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park said in a statement that the insides of the four of the 13 whales had plastic and other hazardous items. Researchers found a plastic bucket, fishing net and part of a car engine cover.
Schleswig-Holstein environment minister Robert Habeck said that the incident showed the effects of plastic use in the society noting that the ill-fated animals suffered and some starved with full stomachs.
The whales, which are all juvenile males between 10 and 17 years old, were severely underweight weighing about 15 tons, a far cry from the average weight of sperm whales of 32 tons and 41 tons.
Experts believe storms shifted the food source of the whales. The whales followed the food source but were eventually stranded in shallow waters, where they died of starvation. Their heavy bodies pressed together their internal organs such as the lungs and blood vessels, which led to cardiovascular failure.
Experts from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) explained that while the foreign materials found inside the animals were not the direct cause of their death, it is apparent that human-caused pollution in the ocean have devastating effects on aquatic life.
"Although not the direct cause of death, vets suspect that the whales would soon experience major health problems as a result of this toxic waste," the WDC said.
About 8 million metric tons of plastic gets into the world's ocean every year posing threats to marine life. Garbage eventually make their way into the stomach of marine fish, whales and birds.
A 2015 study shows how marine pollution contaminate life in the ocean. The researchers found that about a quarter of fish from seafood markets in Indonesia and California have plastic fragments and textile fibers in their guts.