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Plastic pollution ‘could pose threat to baleen whales’, new study suggests

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Microplastics could pose a bigger threat to baleen whales than oil (Getty)

A new study has shown how microplastics can ‘clog’ the hair-like ‘baleen’ in the mouths of baleen whales.

The whales sift huge amounts of water with their baleen, swallowing krill, plankton and small fish.

The baleen is made of keratin, the protein found in human hair and nails.

Researchers from Hampden-Sydney College wrote, ‘Ingestion of microplastics may pose a greater risk to whales than ingestion of oil.

‘We found that the baleen filter is highly effective in trapping and accumulating small plastic particles, such that plastic is both more likely to clog the baleen filter and also perhaps more likely to be ingested by whales than oil.’

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Sea creatures are dying across the world as a result of our addiction to plastic, with a sperm whale washing ashore in Spain last year with 28 kilos of plastic in its stomach, including plastic bags, nets and a jerry can.

It had died from gastric shock.

Every minute of every day, the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters the world’s oceans, according to Greenpeace statistics.

Waste such as bottles, nappies and beer holders can last for up to 450 years in the environment. Some plastics last for 1,000 years.

There are five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans.

A plastic bag was found 36,000 feet below the surface, at the ocean’s deepest point, the Mariana Trench.

Most of the plastic found at the bottom of the sea by divers (89%) has one thing in common, the Deep Sea Debris Database reported: it’s waste such as plastic bottles and bags, designed to be used just once, then thrown away.

Tests by Newcastle University researchers found that sea creatures living in the deepest reaches of the sea had fragments of plastic in their stomachs and muscles.

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