Earth Island Institute

ECO: The environmental voice at the IWC

ECO is published by Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission on behalf of environmental and animal welfare organizations around the globe.

For further information, please contact: Mark J. Palmer, Associate Director, Earth Island Institute, International Marine Mammal Project.

Previous volumes of ECO are available here.


Volume LXIV · Panama City, Panama · No. 2 · Tuesday July 3, 2012
Acrobat .pdf of issue

Hazardous Trash at Sea

Each year, an estimated 6.4 million tons (equivalent to the weight of 40,000 747 airplanes!) of human-made trash is believed to be entering the Earth’s oceans. As much as 60 percent to 80 percent of this trash consists of plastics, which can take hundreds of years, to break down in sea water. A lot of the trash consists of nets and other fishing gear that has been lost at sea, but continues to “fish” for marine life anyway.

Whales are particularly susceptible to marine debris, according to a study, Dying at Our Convenience, by the Environmental Investigation Agency, Humane Society International, Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and World Society for the Protection of Animals. Whales ingest plastics when feeding, which may kill them due to blockage of their alimentary canal or from toxic properties of the trash. Whales also get entangled in fishing nets and lines, resulting in drowning. Even if trash does not kill the whales, it can make them vulnerable to other hazards and diseases.

Dying at Our Convenience recommends the IWC take a series of steps to collect information and analyze data on strandings and other reports of debris as a means to look for solutions to addressing debris hazards to whales (not to mention other marine life).