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Charity Monitors Plastic Bag Spread From Land To Sea

Marinelife monitors UK Waters for discarded plastic bags which kill whales

Marinelife welcomes any move to reduce the impact discarded plastic bags are having on our oceans. The charity which conducts year round whale and dolphin research in the English Channel, North Sea and Bay of Biscay has also been working closely with Aberdeen University for over 2 years to record all plastic rubbish along its research route.

This is an issue close to the charity’s heart, having been concerned with the ever increasing sightings of plastic throughout its research area for a number of years, especially around major ports, so it was delighted to be involved in the valuable research.

Marinelife believe this issue poses both a short and long term threat to marine wildlife and as well as recording sightings of plastic rubbish, has also provided sponsorship for a PhD. The research is focused on some of the rarely seen beaked whales – species such as the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale and Sowerby’s Beaked Whale, which have increasingly been found dead with stomachs filled with plastic bags. The plastic bags are eaten by the whales and become lodged in their stomach and intestines which can at best interfere with normal food uptake and at worst completely block the digestive system – death being an inevitable consequence.

Marinelife researcher, relief wildlife officer and PhD student Jackie Smith commented, “We have recorded plastic bags in the Bay of Biscay over 120 miles from shore in waters over 4000 meters in depth. Beaked whale species in particular are highly susceptible to swallowing plastic bags as they are believed to strongly resemble their target prey, squid. Other species of large whales, which take large mouthfuls of water during feeding, also take in plastic bags by accident and hence are also at risk. The fact that beaked whale species whose natural habitat is deep waters where they catch prey at depths in excess of 1000 meters are being found dead with high concentrations of plastic in their stomachs, highlights how widespread the problem of plastic is.

Marinelife researcher, PR & Publicity Officer, Adrian Shephard commented, “It is only when you actually start recording the number of bags you realise how much of a problem this is and while Marinelife praises any action which could reduce the pollution of our oceans and the threats to our wildlife, it hopes the steps taken by a leading high street store will be built upon by other supermarket chains.”

Marinelife’s unique long term monitoring project, the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) has been conducting scientific monthly whale, dolphin and seabird surveys through the English Channel and Bay of Biscay for the last 13 years, using the P&O Cruise Ferry, The Pride of Bilbao, as a research platform. In addition, a BDRP full-time Wildlife Officer collects daily data on whale and dolphin abundance. The BDRP surveys have detected more than 20 species of whale and dolphin in the Bay of Biscay and counted over a hundred thousand animals.

Adrian Shephard | alfa
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