Whale dies with 100kg 'litter ball' including plastic bags and cups in its stomach

Fishing nets, rope, packing straps, bags and plastic cups were among the items discovered in its stomach
Fishing nets, rope, packing straps, bags and plastic cups were among the items discovered in its stomach Credit: Melvin Nicholson/Bav Media

A sperm whale has been found dead on a Scottish beach with a stomach full of plastic, knotted into a lethal ball.

The whale, discovered by locals on the Isle of Harris was found to have a 100kg "litter ball" inside it.

While scientists do not yet know whether the plastic mass contributed to its death, those who live on the island said it highlighted the larger issue of plastic waste.

Among the items in the dead animal's stomach were fishing nets, rope, packing straps, bags and plastic cups.

The whale was young - a subadult - and it is not yet clear why the otherwise healthy mammal died.

Dan Parry, who lives near the beach in Luskentyre, told the BBC "It was desperately sad, especially when you saw the fishing nets and debris that came out of its stomach.

"We walk on these beaches nearly every day and I always take a bag to pick up litter, most of which is fishing-related.

"This stuff could have easily been netting or the like lost in a storm, we just don't know, but it does show the scale of the problem we have with marine pollution."

The plastic was found by the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (Smass), an organisation that investigates the deaths of whales and dolphins, who dissected the whale to try and determine its cause of death.

Locals were shocked to see the whale Credit: Melvin Nicholson

A post on the group's Facebook page stated: "The animal wasn't in particularly poor condition, and whilst it is certainly plausible that this amount of debris was a factor in its live stranding, we actually couldn't find evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines.

"This amount of plastic in the stomach is nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion, and serves to demonstrate yet again the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life."

They added: "This whale had debris in its stomach which seemed to have originated from both the land and fishing sectors, and could have been swallowed at any point between Norway and the Azores. We are looking in more detail to see if we can work out quite why this animal ended up with so much of it in its stomach."

Photographer Melvin Nicholson, who was visiting the coast, said he saw the whale shortly after it was beached.

He said: "I was there on Thursday with the coastguard as the poor gorgeous creature passed away. I took a couple of photos including the one with a rainbow which I found quite poignant. Thank you to everybody concerned who dealt with the aftermath and for returning the beach to its usual pristine condition. Such a shame to see such a beautiful creature succumb in this way though".