Pilot whales normally eat squid, though they’re also known to munch on jellyfish when there aren’t many of its preferred meal around. It isn’t hard to imagine why a pilot whale might swallow a a submerged plastic bag, mistaking it for a jellyfish.
A pilot whale was found in a canal in southern Thailand last week, and died after vomiting five plastic bags, the Agence France-Presse reported on Saturday (June 2). Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources attempted to treat the animal, who was found alive and in distress, but was unable to save it.
The department conducted an autopsy, posting photos of the process to its Facebook page. The autopsy turned up 8 kg (more than 17 lbs) of plastic products in the whale’s gut. Among them were 80 plastic bags.
Time notes that Thailand is one of the largest consumers of plastic bags. The country is also one of the top five ocean plastic polluters in the world. Its government is currently considered levying a tax on disposable plastic bags, according to the Bangkok Post.
Pilot whales are highly intelligent mammals in the dolphin family, according to the American Cetacean Society:
Displaying intelligence equal to that of the bottlenose dolphin, the pilot whale is easily trained. One captive pilot whale named Morgan was trained by Navy scientists to retrieve beeper-attached objects from the ocean floor at depths of over 1,600 feet. Carrying a clamping recovery device in his mouth, he attached it to the located object, which was then raised to the surface by compressed air balloons. The pilot whale is extremely social, and is well known for stranding in groups of a few animals to several hundred at a time.