Poop research shows whales eat 3 million microplastic bits every day
Whales near the city of Auckland, New Zealand, consume an estimated 3 million microplastics per day. A team of international researchers, including associate professor Thijs Bosker of the Leiden University College The Hague and Ph.D. student Laura Zantis at Leiden University, concluded after examining whale droppings.
This is the first time microplastic pollution is examined by looking at whale feces instead of water samples. "Essentially, whales are constantly taking samples of their environment and their prey as they feed," Zantis said on the Leiden University website. "We wanted to understand by examining their poop how much microplastics they consume each day and whether those microplastics were in the whales' food or from the water they ingest while feeding."
The researchers discovered that the whales in the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland mainly eat tiny plankton like krill. By calculating how much prey they consumed per mouthful of krill, the researchers estimated that the whales consume about 25,000 microplastics each time they catch prey. Most come from the prey. Only 1 in 1,000 comes from the water. The microplastics come from various human-made products, like plastic bottles, cigarette filters, and clothing.
According to Bosker, one of the big questions to answer now is whether the whales absorb these microplastics and what it means for them. "Do these microplastics have negative effects on the organism? Three million sounds like a lot, but we have to determine how harmful that is."