As humans continue using more and more plastic, the non-renewable material continues to hurt marine life. Last week, biologists found a female rough-toothed dolphin calf washed up on Fort Myers Beach in Florida. A necropsy showed that there was plastic in the baby dolphin's stomach, which may have contributed to her death.
Local news outlet the News-Press reported on the dolphin calf's journey, noting that she was actually alive when researchers first found her. However, because she was emaciated and in such a bad state of health, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute decided to put her down after caring for her overnight. “We made the decision to humanely euthanize on-site,” Michelle Kerr of the institute told the News-Press.
A necropsy was performed on the calf, and in her stomach, researchers found two plastic bags and a piece of balloon, local news outlet My Sun Coast reported. Recently, there have been several cases of whales washing ashore in various locations on Earth. In some of those instances, scientists were able to declare the cause of death as excessive plastic in the animal's stomach. However, with this baby dolphin, scientists said that a number of other factors in addition to the plastic may have contributed to the young dolphin's premature death.
"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," the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute wrote on Facebook. "Samples collected during necropsy will be sent for analysis to help with this determination."
FWC biologist Denise Boyd stayed with the calf overnight, describing her time with the baby dolphin to the News-Press as a "tough and long night." Boyd also explained to the outlet that the calf should have still been with her mother, and that it was unclear why she was near Fort Myers, which is far from where her species naturally should be this time of year.
"This finding highlights the need to reduce single use plastic and to not release balloons into the environment," the FWC's post continued. The post also added that marine mammals don't strand randomly — it often signifies that they are sick or hurt. If you ever see a stranded marine animal, the institute says not to push the animal back in the water, and instead to immediately call the FWC (or your local comparable organization) so that experts can deal with the situation.
Each and every story of a beached dolphin or whale being discovered to have plastic in their stomach is heartbreaking. The FWC hopes that people who hear this young dolphin's story will view it as a lesson, and learn to be more mindful when it comes to single-use plastic. The group wrote on Facebook that "this finding highlights the need to reduce single use plastic and to not release balloons into the environment." Here are for some of our best tips on reducing your plastic use.