40kg of plastic ingested by a whale is a devastating trend

Alex Turner
4 min readMar 19, 2019

There’s a lot of terrible news out there, but yesterday a headline about the circumstances of this death of a whale in the Philippines actually broke my heart.

A juvenile Cuvier’s beaked whale washed up in Compostela Valley, showing signs of starvation and dehydration, and had been vomiting blood.

Further investivation revealed 40kg of plastic waste in its stomach, comprising shopping bags, banana plantation bags and 16 rice sacks.

This was reportedly the most amount of plastic seen by these marine biologists in a whale.

It keeps happening though.

For these species, adult males have two forward-pointing teeth which protrude from the tip of the lower jaw, but otherwise beaked whales are toothless and are thought to use suction to catch their prey.

And of course, the main threats to this marine species include the accumulation of toxic pollutants in whale tissue and organs, entanglement in fishing nets and marine litter, and noise disturbance.

They may also swallow plastic bags mistaken for prey, which can accumulate in the stomach of the animal causing starvation and eventual death.

Can our own species be any worse?

We were living in Malaysia when news broke of a pilot whale dying in Thailand having eaten 80 plastic bags.

Who else saw this?

I was horrified.

But plastic waste and plastic bags are inescapable in Thailand and Malaysia, and across the whole of South East Asia.

It was a culture shock, but really not that surprising to learn that Tesco has an inconsistent policy when it comes to single use plastic bags.

A step towards sustainability? Or pure corporate greenwashing?

Because it’s a different kettle of fish (probably also made of plastic) in Tesco Malaysia, where it is actually proud to dispense plastic bags as if its livelihood depended on it.

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Alex Turner

Founder, feminist, entrepreneur, coffee + self care