The recent death of a young dolphin found with trash in its stomach highlights the need to reduce single-use plastic and to not release balloons into the environment, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says.
The female rough-toothed dolphin was found stranded on Fort Myers Beach on April 23 with a piece of a balloon and two plastic bags in its stomach.
Biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducted a necropsy of the months-old dolphin on Thursday, two days after it washed up on the shore, and found the waste that it swallowed.
“Although a significant finding, there are many additional factors to consider, such as underlying illness, disease and maternal separation, before a final cause of stranding and death for the dolphin can be determined,” FWC said in a Facebook statement. “Samples collected during necropsy will be sent for analysis to help with this determination.”
When the dolphin was found, she was emaciated and in poor health, weighing 111 pounds and measuring 5 feet 7 inches in length.
The biologist decided to “humanely euthanize” the dolphin, according to FWC spokeswoman Michelle Kerr.
Rough-toothed dolphins are small members of the dolphin family. A healthy adult rough-toothed weighs 350 pounds and is 8 feet 6 inches in length, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In March, a pregnant sperm whale that washed up in Sardinia, Italy, had 22 kilograms (49 pounds) of plastic in its stomach and was carrying a dead fetus, the country’s environment minister and a marine life non-profit organization said.
Earlier in the month, a juvenile male Cuvier’s beaked whale was found dead in the Philippines due to “dehydration and starvation” after consuming 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of plastic bags, scientists found.
Marine mammals usually strand due to injury or illness
Kerr said marine mammals often become stranded if they are injured or sick. The commission says the animals should never be pushed back into the ocean, because “it is important for rescue teams to come out and give them medical attention or take them in for rehabilitation,” Kerr told CNN.
“Please don’t push the animal back into the water as it can delay examination and treatment and often results in the animal re-stranding in worse condition,” FWC said in a statement.
In an effort to curb environmental damage from throw-away plastics, many businesses and several states are taking action. Hawaii was the first state in the US to ban plastic bags in all counties in 2015. The state continues its fight against plastic waste through a bill that would prohibit restaurants and government agencies from using single-use plastic items by 2020. California and New York have also implemented a statewide ban on plastic bags. The ban in New York will go into effect next March.
“Every year, there are billions – billions with a ‘b’ – of bags that are thrown away after just one use,” New York state Sen. Todd Kaminsky told CNN affiliate WCBS in March. “The average plastic bag use is about 12 minutes … we just have this disposable plastic craze and it is adding up.”