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Let’s move beyond sadness over whale’s death

/ 12:57 PM June 06, 2018

A pilot whale was found struggling last week on the coast of Songkhla, trying hard to stay alive because it could barely breathe, much less swim. Rescuers using life buoys to keep it afloat as physicians tended to it failed to save the animal. The whale was spotted on May 28 in the Na Thap Canal in Songkhla’s Chana district, unable to swim. Umbrellas were erected to protect its skin from the burning sun. The animal struggled for five days, vomiting five plastic bags. Last Friday, this pitiful soul could no longer hang on and died. A necropsy was performed and eight kilograms of shopping bags and other plastic debris were found clogging the whale’s stomach. In short, the whale died because it was impossible for it to ingest food.

With all that plastic in its stomach obstructing its breathing and food intake, the animal’s death was not a surprise. Imagine spending five whole days strangling, holding one’s breath, fighting to stay alive.

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Concerns over plastic polluting our oceans and our cities have been raised countless times in the past, but no one seems to want to do anything about the problem. Such problems might be offset if we were less careless with our trash. It was our own carelessness that caused this beautiful animal to die.

But for too many of us, being asked to manage our trash better is just too much. It’s too much work, it seems. Who’s going to notice if we toss aside a bag or a straw? The ocean is vast – what’s one tiny plastic bag? Unfortunately, this is an attitude shared by millions, and all of our discards do collectively create a massive problem. Judging from the amount of waste that is raked from the seas, this appears to be the attitude of enough people to put the animals and our whole world at risk.

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There is no way of knowing how many animals in the seas are going through the same suffering as that pilot whale. Thailand has a plastic crisis and much of it has to do with our lifestyle. We use plastic and don’t think about the consequences or the impact it will have on the environment and, in cases like this, animals in the sea.

According to one estimate, more than eight billion kilograms of plastic are permitted to wash into the seas on an annual basis. We turn a blind eye to it, thinking it will soon be out of sight and life carries on. It doesn’t cross our minds that the plastic flows into the ocean, where animals mistake it for food. How many more whales have to die before our society, our government, take action?

We can start with ourselves. Individually, we can help bring down that number by foregoing plastic bags and bottles. We can avoid items packaged in plastic. Recycling, as opposed to littering, is one way to reduce plastic waste. Stores and supermarket could encourage customers to bring their own bags or charge extra for the use of plastic bags. Many of us tend to take things for granted because they’re free.

At the policy level, the government needs to speed up discussion about taxing plastic shopping bags. It’s claimed to be government strategy to cut down on plastic consumption and pollution. It’s good the government is aware of the problem, but this should have been discussed decades ago.

The death of the pilot whale should force us to take a good look at ourselves and at our behavior on this planet we share. Not enough people realize that whales play an integral role in the ecosystem of the ocean. By killing the whales, we end up killing ourselves along the way. And when we pollute the oceans, we pollute the fish we eat.

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TAGS: Asia, environment, Thailand, Whale
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