National Geographic reports that in August of this past year, a Sei whale was found swimming in river tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. This sighting was incredibly unusual for the busy and industrial river. Endangered Sei whales are normally found in the deep waters of all temperate oceans (they aren’t found in polar or tropical regions). Sei whales are commonly found in the Atlantic, but these whales, the fastest of all the whales, are rarely found in such shallow waters. Something was wrong.

Biologists from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center responded to the call. They stayed close to the 45-foot long female in an attempt to protect her from passing ships. Unfortunately, the whale was found dead only a few days later.

When a necropsy was done, the cause of death was bizarre. A broken piece of a plastic DVD case was found in the the whale. It had lacerated her stomach, preventing her from feeding. Her death was slow and painful.

But how did a DVD case get inside this whale? The researchers believe that the whale must have swallowed the plastic when feeding near the surface of the ocean. It was tiny piece of the tons and tons of plastic that humans have disposed of in the oceans.

Whales aren’t the only ocean animals suffering at the hands of marine debris. Marine mammals, sea turtles and animals all the way down the food chain are being effected by not only the physical plastic, but the chemicals it leaches off into the ocean waters. And we show no sign of slowing this pollution. Each day humans produce and use 500,000 straws. Thats 500,000 pieces of plastic that could potentially end up the ocean each day. In the U.S. alone, 1,500 plastic water bottles are consumed every second. That’s a lot of plastic, and much of it ends up in our oceans.

This Sei whale’s story does not have a happy ending. As an member of an endangered species, her loss is truly devastating.

“It makes me very sad that a piece of plastic that was not disposed of properly ended up killing a whale,” says the Virginia aquarium’s research coordinator, Susan Barco. “It was a preventable death.”

Every animal loss because of pollution is, in fact, preventable. Every bit of plastic you use has the potential to end up in the oceans. The easiest way to prevent loss of our amazing ocean creatures; cut back. Cut back on the plastic you use. Bring reusable grocery bags, drink form a reusable water bottle and be conscious of how your daily decisions can affect the planet and its animals.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.

Image source: ToxicWeb/Flickr