The carcass of the young animal—estimated to be seven years old—washed up on the beach at Cefalu, a popular tourist destination in Sicily, on May 17.
Grim images posted Facebook show the dead whale lying on the beach, its stomach full of plastic bags and other plastic objects.
Experts performed a necropsy on the whale on the beach on Sunday. Carmelo Isgro, who works at the University of Messina’s natural history museum and was involved in the procedure, shared graphic videos and images on Facebook.
One video shows the moment scientists opened the whale’s stomach and found it full of plastic bags.
“These are the squid the whale ate, and this is all plastic,” Isgro says in the video.
In another video, Isgro is seen putting the plastic he recovered from the whale’s body in a recycling bin. “It’s impressive. Unbelievable,” he says in the video.
Isgro told CNN there were “several kilograms worth of plastic” inside the whale’s stomach.
“The plastic probably created a block that didn’t let the food in,” he said. “That’s very likely to be the cause of death. We have not found signs that could indicate another possible reason.”
He added that the whale was a female and she was so young that “her teeth haven’t come out yet.”
“I’m still shocked because her belly was completely full, swollen with plastic,” Isgro said.
Sperm whales usually live for 70-80 years, he said.
From 2009 to 2016, 13 sperm whales washed up dead along the Italian coast.
— Oceana (@oceana) May 9, 2019
Pregnant Whale Washed Up on Shore Had 48 Pounds of Plastic in Stomach
In April, a pregnant sperm whale was found in Sardinia with 22 kilograms (49 pounds) of plastic in its stomach. The dead animal, which was eight meters (26 feet) long, washed up on a beach in the tourist hotspot of Porto Cervo.
Firefighters hoisted the whale onto a truck and took it to an institution where a necropsy would be performed.
Researchers from the University of Padua found that the whale was likely unable to nourish her fetus due to the amount of plastic she had swallowed, which included plastic plates, black trash bags, and fishing nets.
“It was dramatic to find the fetus . . . we felt bad already at that point, “ marine biologist Mattia Leone, who was present for the post-mortem exam, told The Telegraph. “But then when we opened the stomach and saw all the plastic we realized, yet again, we were bearing witness to this very worrisome, sad situation.”
Luca Bittau, president of the SeaMe group, said that the unborn baby appeared to have died before its mother washed ashore.
“She was pregnant and had almost certainly aborted before [she] beached,” he told CNN. “The fetus was in an advanced state of composition.”
The whale measured 26 feet (eight meters) in length.
Further tests were planned to pinpoint the cause of death but researchers indicated that plastic most likely played a role.
Questo capodoglio è stato trovato morto a Porto Cervo in Sardegna: nella pancia aveva un feto e 22kg di plastica… C'è…
NTD News reporter Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.