Where Whales Meet Plastic – Scientists Embark On Journey To Discover Why Whales Are Eating So Much Plastic

Source: Hakai Magazine/Erica Cirino 

Photo: Andrew Bain/Unsplash


On the turbulent sea, white-capped waves blur into the distant snow-dusted mountains and the icy air bites at exposed skin. In the unforgiving conditions, Belén García Ovide braces herself against the wooden railing of the Ópal, scanning the wild sea for whales.

The gaping, frozen mouth of the fjord, Ísafjarðardjúp, is well known for attracting hungry whales. And after taking a look at the ship’s fish finder, it’s clear why. Two red stripes—one thin and high, one low and thick—reveal the locations of planktonic prey and predatory fish, both of which attract different species of whales. Despite this availability of food, research points to a bleak future for cetaceans in Iceland and around the world.

From filter-feeding baleen whales like humpbacks and fin whales, to toothed sperm whales and killer whales, all are consuming enormous amounts of plastic. The debris blocks their digestive tracts and, scientists suspect, delivers toxic chemicals into their bodies. But no one quite understands why whales are eating plastic in the first place—or precisely what these toxicants do to their bodies.

To find out, Ovide, a scientist and sailor from Iceland, organized an expedition into the country’s whale-rich northern waters.

Sailing around Ísafjarðardjúp, Ovide and three biologists on board spot what they are after: amid several steel fishing vessels bobbing in the water, spooling in their longlines, are more than a dozen killer whales, a sperm whale, a few humpbacks, and a minke.

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Photo: Andrew Bain/Unsplash

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