Increased presence of marine debris from anthropogenic (human) sources has become a widespread problem throughout the world’s oceans and poses a serious threat to marine wildlife and cetaceans alike. Some examples are plastic bags and household packaging, plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets, cigarette butts, microplastics, and many more items too numerous to list.
For cetaceans, ingestion or entanglement in debris can cause chronic and acute injuries and increase pollutant loads, resulting in morbidity and mortality . There are also other sub-lethal effects such as compromised feeding, disrupted digestion, bioaccumulation and other altered physiological processes .
Globally, incidences of interactions between marine mammals and marine debris have been well documented both in peer reviewed publications and the media, with increasing numbers of reports published citing it as the cause for strandings and/or subsequent mortality. However, the scale of the impacts are not fully known, as many cetaceans that die after swallowing or becoming entangled in marine debris may simply die out at sea and go unrecorded.
IWDG were partners in the largest study of the incidence of marine debris in stranded cetaceans Lusher et al. (2018) Incidence of marine debris in cetaceans in Ireland. Environmental Pollution