The body of a pregnant sperm whale washed up in Sardinia, Italy, with over 22 kg of plastic in its stomach, reports said on Monday. Among the things found in the mammal’s stomach were “garbage bags ... fishing nets, lines, tubes, the bag of a washing machine liquid still identifiable, with brand and barcode.”

Italy’s Environment Minister Sergio Costa in a Facebook post said, “Are there still people who say these are not important problems? For me they are, and they are priorities.”

Researchers and veterinarians said the animal was malnourished and likely unable to feed her foetus, The Telegraph reported. “We opened the stomach and saw all the plastic, we realised, yet again, we were bearing witness to this very worrisome, sad situation,” The Telegraph quoted marine biologist Mattia Leone as saying. Leone was present for the whale’s postmortem examination.

Sardinia is a popular tourist spot and also a hot spot for whales. The Caprera Canyon is a deep undersea gorge with many species of marine wildlife, including sperm whales, fin whales, and three different species of dolphins, the report added.

Sergio Costa said, “We’ve used the comfort of disposable objects in a lighthearted way in the past years and now we are paying the consequences. Indeed the animals, above all, are the ones paying them.” He promised that Italy would by 2021 enforce a law that bans many single-use plastic items including straws, cotton buds and cutlery.

In 2017, a picture of a seahorse with a cotton bud had gone viral on the internet, prompting much distress and criticism over environmental pollution, specifically in the ocean. Seahorses move through ocean currents by holding objects with their tails.

Marine life and plastic

Recently, there have been multiple instances where animals have been found with alarming amounts of plastic in their stomachs. In March, a whale was found after it had starved to death in the Philippines, with over 40 kg of plastic in its stomach. “We have done necropsies on 61 dolphins and whales in the last 10 years and this is one of the biggest [amounts of plastic] we have seen,” Darrell Blatchley, who conducted the examination, had said.

In November, a sperm whale was found dead after consuming more than 1,000 plastic items in Indonesia, while In June, a pilot whale died in Thailand after consuming at least 80 plastic bags.