(ORDO NEWS) — Marine animals of all sizes inadvertently ingest plastic as tiny particles are found all over the ocean. But how much does each swallow?
And how much do the largest individuals consume? To answer this question, scientists from Stanford University analyzed the feeding habits of whales off the coast of California.
This study is a continuation of field work that has been carried out for more than ten years. The data includes drone sightings, non-invasive tags, and the use of small research vessels and sound waves to map dense fish and krill concentrations in whale feeding areas.
For the first time, researchers have combined this information with measurements of microplastic concentrations in the water column off the coast of California.
The new analysis has shown that whales spend most of their feeding at depths of 50 to 250 meters, exactly where the highest concentrations of microplastics are found.
How much plastic do whales eat?
However, it is curious that whales do not consume plastic at the moment when they open their mouths. Scientists have found that the animals ingest the fragments when they eat the prey itself.
For blue whales, the largest krill-rich creature on the planet, that means they ingest roughly 10 million tiny pieces of plastic a day.
As part of their analysis, the team also looked at the impact on humpback whales, which feed primarily on herring and anchovies.
They ingest approximately 200,000 pieces of microplastic per day. Meanwhile, fin whales feed on both krill and fish and are estimated to ingest between three and 10 million pieces of microplastic per day.
Scientists are extremely concerned about the fact that plastic is consumed along with prey, as science still does not know what the consequences of such nutrition for animal health are.
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