Interactions between marine mammals and plastic debris have been the focus of studies for many years. Examples of interactions include entanglement in discarded fishing items or the presence of ingested debris in digestive tracts. Plastics, including microplastics, are a form of marine debris globally distributed in coastal areas, oceanic waters and deep seas. Cetaceans which strand along the coast present a unique opportunity to study interactions between animals with macro- and microplastics. A combination of novel techniques and a review of historical data was used to complete an extensive study of cetaceans interacting with marine debris within Irish waters. Of the 25 species of marine mammals reported in Irish waters, at least 19 species were reported stranded between 1990 and 2015 (n = 2934). Two hundred and forty-one of the stranded cetaceans presented signs of possible entanglement or interactions with fisheries. Of this number, 52.7% were positively identified as bycatch or as entangled in fisheries items, 26.6% were classified as mutilated and 20.7% could not be related to fisheries but showed signs of entanglement. In addition, 274 cetaceans were recorded as by-catch during observer programmes targeting albacore tuna. Post-mortem examinations were carried out on a total of 528 stranded and bycaught individuals and 45 (8.5%) had marine debris in their digestive tracts: 21 contained macrodebris, 21 contained microdebris and three had both macro- and microdebris. Forty percent of the ingested debris were fisheries related items. All 21 individuals investigated with the novel method for microplastics contained microplastics, composed of fibres (83.6%) and fragments (16.4%). Deep diving species presented more incidences of macrodebris ingestion but it was not possible to investigate this relationship to ecological habitat. More research on the plastic implications to higher trophic level organisms is required to understand the effects of these pollutants.
Environmental Pollution – Elsevier
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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