A new study into plastic pollution and its effects on the marine environment has confirmed that whales are ingesting microplastics in alarming quantities.
A team from the University of Siena’s looked at fin whales and whale sharks in the Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Cortez respectively.
Unlike toothed whales, filter feeding whales like the fin open their mouths to take in huge volumes of water and prey, such as krill or small fish. The water then floods back out through the whales baleen filters leaving the prey for the whale to then swallow.
However, this feeding process also means there is the potential for them to take in substantial amounts of microplastic (less than 5mm wide) floating in the water.
“Exposure to these plastic-associated toxins pose a major threat to the health of these whales since it can alter the hormones, which regulate the body’s growth and development, metabolism, and reproductive functions, among other things,” said Professor Maria Cristina Fossi of the University of Siena.