On Mooney Goes Wild tonight: Special - The Bergen Whale
Viewed from space, the Earth looks like a blue marble. Its oceans are, far and away, its defining visual characteristic. They are home to the largest animals that have ever lived: whales. Some whale species favour surface waters, while other dive to extraordinary depths. The deepest diver of all is Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, a species which dives so deeply, in fact, that it is rarely ever seen by humans, except when the occasional individual beaches itself or a corpse is washed ashore.
Left: Image Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory; right: Image Credit: University Museum of Bergen
One of the most recent live strandings of this near-mythical creature occurred in January 2017 on the island of Sotra, close to the city of Bergen, on the southwestern coast of Norway. The whale was still clinging to life when discovered, but it was in very poor health and suffering greatly. After several unsuccessful attempts to coax it back out to sea failed, the difficult decision was made to put the poor creature out of its misery.
The whale’s sad death gave scientists and marine researchers an unprecedented opportunity to try to work out what exactly had happened to this Cuvier's Beaked Whale. A post-mortem was carried out, and the reason for the whale’s distress soon became horrifyingly apparent. In its stomach were found at least 30 plastic bags. With so much undigestible plastic clogging its digestive tract, the whale had little room left for food. It was slowly, painfully starving to death when it ran aground. It could not have survived.
Image Credit: University Museum of Bergen
To find out more about the story of this whale, and the enormous problems that plastic pollution cause for marine life around the world, presenter Derek Mooney and zoologist Dr. Richard Collins travelled to Bergen, in Norway. There, they spoke with Helge Søfteland, a producer with NRK, the Norwegian national broadcaster. He told them about how the story generated a huge media interest around the world in plastic pollution in our seas...
Left: Helge Søfteland; Right: Image Credit: University Museum of Bergen
Terje Lislevand is Associate Professor in the Department of Natural History, at the University Museum of Bergen. He shows Derek and Richard the various plastic bags that were found inside the stomach of the whale, which are now housed inside the Museum...
Images from the University Museum of Bergen; bottom right: Dr. Richard Collins (l) with Prof. Terje Lislevand (r)
Images from the University Museum of Bergen; display of the plastics bags found in the stomach of the Bergen Whale; Prof. Terje Lislevand; 15 tonnes of plastics end up in the ocean every minute; Richard Collins & Helge Søfteland outside the University Museum of Bergen
So how can we protect our seas and oceans? Can we, individually, have any impact? One man who has dedicated his life to removing plastic from our oceans is Kenneth Bruvik. He has been on a mission to clean the Norwegian coast, as he explained to Derek and Richard...
Top left: Richard Collins, Kenneth Bruvik & Helge Søfteland; top right & bottom left: some of the litter found during the clean-up; bottom right: Richard Collins & Kenneth Bruvik
From left: Kenneth Bruvik on the boat; Richard Collins & Kenneth Bruvik; Kenneth with Helge; Richard & Kenneth examine some of the plastic little they have found
Plastic is seen as utterly disposable - and yet it simply doesn’t go away: a single plastic bottle will remain intact for over 100 years without decomposing. Other plastics will persist for more than a millennium, buried in landfill sites, clogging our rivers or polluting our beaches. We are producing more and more of it: around 350 million tonnes per year, and rising. By 2050, the weight of the plastic in our oceans will exceed the weight of the fish.
Dr. Lisa Emelia Svensson is the Director for Ocean, at the UN Environment, heading up the marine and coastal ecosystem work program. She talks to Derek about what is being done by international governments to combat marine pollution...
Rowan Byrne is Principal Marine Environmental Scientist for the global engineering consultants Mott McDonald, and is shocked and horrified by the sheer scale of the problem. He tells Derek about a conference he in organised in June 2017, in the English university town of Cambridge, which aimed to bring together interested parties to discuss solutions to the problem of marine litter and pollution. He also discusses fatbergs, and the problems that flushing wet wipes down the toilet can cause... For more advice on what not to flush, visit http://thinkbeforeyouflush.org/.
Whales are far from the only creatures that are being severely harmed by the huge quantities of plastic that have entered our marine ecosystem. A vast range of molluscs, crustaceans, fish, turtles and birds are also suffering due to our folly, greed and neglect. Niall Hatch, who is Development Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, is extremely concerned about the effects of plastics on marine life and has been seeing the problem growing. He tells Derek about the impact of plastic on Ireland's seabirds...
Dr. Heidi Acampora, a Postdoctoral researcher in the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology's Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, has been examining the infiltration of marine food chains by plastic litter, as well as the dire consequences for the marine animals that are unfortunate enough to consume it. She tells Derek and Richard Collins more about her research, and about why one bird species, the Fulmar, appears to have been hit especially hard by the abundance of plastic around the Irish coast.
Dr. Simon Berrow with the skull of a Cuvier's Beaked Whale
According to a recent study, marine debris has been found in 8.5% of whales and dolphins in Ireland. In one of the largest studies of this kind undertaken, it was discovered that amongst 528 creatures autopsied, a massive 93% contained plastics. Dr. Simon Berrow is a Lecturer at GMIT, an Executive Officer of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (www.iwdg.ie) and Project Manager at the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation (www.shannondolphins.ie). He was also a co-author on this study; he told Derek that while larger marine debris is widespread, the smaller fractions, known as microplastics, were found in all compartments of the digestive tracts of all those individuals examined for them. Another finding was that plastic bags were the most frequently recorded item found in deep diving whales...
For more information on this study, which was carried out by GMIT, UCC & IWDG, visit www.iwdg.ie.
Hedgerows: It is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season from 1 March to 31 August, subject to certain exceptions'. For more information, click here.
UPDATE: February 29th 2016 - Press Release From BirdWatch Ireland:
Putting the record straight: Dates for burning and hedge-cutting have NOT changed
BirdWatch Ireland, Ireland’s largest conservation charity, is very concerned about misinformation that is currently circulating regarding the dates within which the burning of vegetation and cutting of hedges is permitted. It would like to remind landowners that all burning and cutting must cease on 29th February this year and that burning and cutting remains prohibited from 1st March to 31st August.
Despite attempts by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., to change the laws regulating these dates by introducing the Heritage Bill 2016 earlier this year, it is important to note that the proposed date changes were ultimately NOT made. This is because the bill failed to pass through both houses of the Oireachtas before the recent dissolution of the Dáil in advance of the general election.
The laws in place governing the dates for hedge-cutting and upland burning therefore remain unchanged. The period within which cutting and burning is prohibited are set down in Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended in 2000), which states that:
(a) It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy, during the period beginning on the 1st day of March and ending on the 31st day of August in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated.
(b) It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch during the period mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection (above).
The existing law provides exemptions for road safety and other circumstances and should be read carefully to ensure compliance.
Section 40 of the Wildlife Act exists to protect nesting birds. Many of our upland bird species are in decline and are in danger of extinction in Ireland; amongst them is the Curlew, which has declined by 80%. Many birds which nest in hedgerows into August are also in serious decline, including the endangered Yellowhammer. The changes to the cutting and burning dates which had been proposed in the now-defunct Heritage Bill 2016 would have caused serious impacts to these birds. A petition launched by BirdWatch Ireland in conjunction with several other national conservation organisations to stop these changes attracted more than 16,200 signatures and rising.
BirdWatch Ireland would also like to advise members of the public that if they see hedges being cut or fires in the uplands on or after 1st March, such activity could be illegal. In such cases, we would encourage people to contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service (www.npws.ie) to report such activity.
BirdWatch Ireland warmly welcomes the demise of the Heritage Bill 2016 and sincerely hopes that any future administration will consider the importance of Ireland’s natural heritage and will not attempt to reintroduce such a flawed and damaging piece of legislation.
To contact your local wildlife ranger, click here for contact details. To read the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, click here.
Please DO NOT send any live, dead or skeletal remains of any creature whatsoever to Mooney Goes Wild.
If you find an injured animal or bird, please contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 1890 20 20 21, or BirdWatch Ireland, on 01 281-9878, or visit www.irishwildlifematters.ie