By: Lynne Barre, Guest blogger
I work on marine mammal conservation with NOAA Fisheries in the Pacific Northwest and have seen firsthand how marine debris can affect marine life.
As part of the stranding Northwest Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, I help respond to beached, distressed and entangled animals. Part of my job also entails responding to deceased marine mammals, sometimes found wrapped in fishing nets. Our team conducts thorough investigations to identify what human activities are impacting various populations. One human impact is marine debris.
We have seen a number of animals entangled in fishing gear and discovered a few who have ingested marine debris. In some instances, we can quickly release animals from fishing gear entanglement; however, some animals are brought to a rehabilitation facility to recover from their injuries before being released back into the wild. We investigate every case to identify what marine debris the animals are interacting with and ingesting to help inform prevention and stewardship activities.
In 2010 several local stranding groups responded to a 39-foot dead gray whale in West Seattle, WA. During the necropsy, we discovered a variety of foreign materials in the whale’s stomach. Duct tape, plastic bags, rope, fishing line, towels, sweatpants, and even a golf ball made up the several pounds of marine debris the whale had ingested. The local community connected with the story of this whale that was feeding in Puget Sound and then stranded on a local beach with a stomach full of garbage. This gray whale became the inspiration for an outreach exhibit and activities to educate the public about how marine debris can harm marine mammals.
NOAA Fisheries and our partners spread the word about what every person can do to keep trash out of our waters, such as bringing your own bag to the grocery store or participating in local beach cleanups. Every little bit counts, and will help keep trash from entering our oceans and protecting our marine wildlife. For more information about the Northwest Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, check us out online at: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Marine-Mammals/Stranding-Information.cfm.