The number of animal species known to die or be affected by plastics is huge. This number is currently over 2000 and is constantly increasing. This includes animals caught in plastic. In this case, the animal can no longer move freely. They choke, starve, and lose limbs due to amputation. This number does not reflect the actual number of animal species affected by the plastic, only the species investigated as per litterbase.
When asked which animal species are clearly unaffected, the answer is surprisingly few.
If caught in plastic, it can have dire consequences for the animal, including restricted movement, hunger, drowning, and choking. Limb infections, growth, or amputations can occur. Animals trapped in plastic will not be able to find food and will be more likely to be prey to predators. For whales, plastic entanglement is a greater threat than whaling. The sharp threads of the net can bite into the meat and cause whales to lose their fins and tail. Other whales need to swim with the caught fishing nets. Marine mammals such as sea lions, dolphins and seals are known to be a regular victim of curiosity, and turtles are also easily trapped in plastic. They are swimming and playing to plastic objects.
Confused by balloons
Birds can get caught in the plastic of the balloon, which can wrap around the legs and head. Letting go of balloons is certainly a festive sight, especially with a large number of balloons. But it's terrible to see a bird wearing a balloon ribbon around its neck. After the flight, the balloon will come down somewhere. If it is by the sea, they will be launched ashore and animals can get caught in plastic straps.
You can always find a lot of balloons left on the beach.
Food or plastic?
Animals often eat plastic because it is not always possible to distinguish between plastic and food. Filter feeders (plankton, crustaceans, and baleen whales) or organisms living under sandy beaches (worms) cannot make this distinction.
Some plastic-eating fish bite plastic that floats in the water, mistaken for fish eggs. Turtles consider plastic bags to be jellyfish and usually feed on them. Most of the time, the plastic is in the stomach of the northern fulmar. It flies over the surface of the water with its beak open to collect food. Many grazing animals on land also eat plastic. Plastic waste coated with food waste increases the likelihood that plastic will be eaten.
What happens when an animal eats plastic?
Animals that accidentally eat plastic often suffer and die. The ingested plastic fills the stomach, which, of course, reduces the feeling of hunger. Animals eat less, receive less energy, and become weaker. Large pieces of plastic can also clog the gastrointestinal tract and prevent the plastic from being excreted.
Fish eat plastic. Turtles eat plastic bags. Even whales have been found dead with large amounts of plastic in their stomachs. According to many years of Dutch research, the stomach contents of the northern fulmar consist of an average of 25 plastics.
The stomach of a sperm whale launched in Indonesia's Wakatobi National Park in December 2018 had 115 cups, 25 bags, 4 bottles and 2 slippers. More than 1000 plastics were counted on the whale's belly, and the total weight of the plastics was 6 kg.
In the United Arab Emirates, plastic causes half of all camel deaths. Animals ate litter and plastic lumps weighing 10-60 kg were found in their stomachs. Since plastic cannot leave the stomach, the lump will continue to grow until the animal dies of starvation.
In July 2010, a young green turtle was swept off the coast of Brazil near Florianopolis, severely debilitated and died hours later. This specimen had 3267 plastics in the intestine and 308 plastics in the stomach. Only plastic parts larger than 5 mm were counted.
All these cases of plastic intake can deteriorate animal life, our oceans and thus, our environment!