Last month, a dead killer whale washed ashore in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, with a stomach full of trash. According to researchers, the whale had almost no real food inside of it–instead, it had plastic containers, the sole of a shoe, and various food wrappers.
Clearly, it wasn’t a painless death. For over a week, the orca swam in the relatively shallow waters of the bay while residents of the area kayaked out to look at it. Although orcas generally swim in pods, this one was alone, and scientists believe it was sick and separated from the group. Once in the bay, the whale ate what it could find, but there was something very wrong. “We’re not sure whether it’s cause or effect, but she might have been trying to pick up anything she could,” said Dr. Gwenith Penry, Plett Stranding Network coordinator. “Or she swallowed something earlier on and it blocked her passages, so she felt full, but wasn’t digesting.” When the whale eventually beached itself, volunteers kept it wet with buckets of water until crews managed to get it back into deeper water. Then, three days later, it was found dead.
It’s no secret that humans are royally screwing up the planet. The irony is that what’s screwing it up is our efforts to make our own lives easier and presumably better–but in the age of convenience, we’ve created a thoroughly disposable way of living, and it’s one that just isn’t working. Unfortunately, the kind of changes necessary require a shift on a global scale, involving governments and citizens alike. A few days ago, a report came out stating that if we continue the way we’re going, the ocean will have more trash in it than fish by the year 2050.
“The best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tons of plastics in the ocean today,” the study says. “In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).”
We’re currently letting just under 10 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year. If you break that number down into a more understandable scale, it works out to a garbage truck full of plastic every single minute of every single day. It’s no wonder, then, that the only thing the starving whale could find to eat was our garbage. According to The Dodo, the whale was taken to the dump, where it was dissected.
The orca was taken to a dump to be dissected.
The orca was taken to a dump to be dissected. Photo: Orca Foundation
While there are a few efforts to begin fixing the problem–Boyan Slat’s ingenious Ocean Cleanup Array, for instance–they are few and far between, and for the most part, only serve to make the tiniest dent in a problem that is getting bigger with each passing day. The killer whale’s death is yet another indicator that we need make major changes to our way of living, and we need to do it as soon as possible. Hubert Reeves said it best: “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible nature, unaware that the nature he’s destroying is the God he’s worshiping.”