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Dead whale shark with plastic bag

Sabah Fisheries Department staff retrieve the 150kg whale shark head for research purposes. Image: Sabah Wildlife Department

The Inertia

A whale shark washed up on Tanjung Aru beach in Menumbok, an area to the northwest of Indonesia. Post mortem results revealed that it died as a result of a plastic bag blocking the gastrointestinal tract.

According to reports, the whale shark was found by a teacher who happened to be jogging the beach on February 5. The animal was a male juvenile. When the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue unit arrived, they conducted a necropsy.

Whale shark necropsy

Researchers conducted an on-scene necropsy to figure out what happened. Image: Sabah Wildlife Department

“When a post-mortem was done,” said Sen Nathan, Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit manager, “we were shocked to find a large plastic bag measuring 46cm in width by 32cm in width that was causing a physical obstruction in its gastrointestinal tract. It was evident that the cause of death was due to intestinal obstruction leading to starvation and death.”

Plastic bag inside whale shark

The bag found inside the whale shark. Image: Sabah Wildlife Department

Since floating plastic bags are easily and often mistaken for things like jellyfish, they pose a grave danger to the animals that accidentally eat them. “This should be a grave reminder of the need to dispose of plastic properly, or even better, not using plastic bags and other plastic paraphernalia at all,” said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga.


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