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Plastic Jonah

April 20, 2010

This plastic bag was just removed from the stomach of a beached whale in West Seattle, which is open in the background. Photo by Cascadia Research.

Human trash filled the stomach of a gray whale that mysteriously washed up on a beach in West Seattle and died April 14. From Cascadia Research, who is conducting the necropsy:

The 37 foot near-adult male was found to be in better nutritional condition than some of the other gray whales that have died in recent weeks and starvation was not considered a major contributor to the cause of death. The animal had more than 50 gallons of largely undigested stomach contents consisting mostly of algae but also a surprising amount of human debris including more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball. The debris while numerous, made up only 1-2% of the stomach contents and there was no clear indication it had caused the death of the animal. It did clearly indicate that the whale had been attempting to feed in industrial waters and therefore exposed to debris and contaminants present on the bottom in these areas.

I mention it often on this blog, but this reminds me of the work of Chris Jordan (view the Midway photos). I’m not sure people really understand that plastic does not biodegrade, and that so much of it inevitably ventures out to sea. Majestic whales and curious sea birds eat what they can find in their environment. If their environment is trash, well … you see what happens.

A commenter on the West Seattle Blog called the contents of the whale’s stomach “junk food.” It’s interesting how humans export their disregard for their own bodies to the bodies of beings in the ocean. If you’re willing to eat a Double Down, then you probably don’t care if a gray whale eats the plastic bag your “sandwich” came in.

In the Book of Jonah, Jonah attempts to flee from his duty fulfilling God’s will. A great storm picks up, and it becomes apparent to all on the ship that the storm is Jonah’s fault. The sailors throw him overboard, and the storm stops. Jonah is then swallowed by a whale (or large fish) sent by God to save Jonah’s life. In the stomach of the whale, Jonah prays for redemption and vows to leave behind his false idols and turn back to God’s temple.

5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.

7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD.”

10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

But plastic cannot repent for sins it did not commit. Swallowed by a sea giant, plastic remains plastic. The ones responsible for the product are unaware of the whale and unaware of the consequences of their actions.

Without vowing to turn from their ways, humans will continue to bring down great wonders of the sea. 90 percent of big fish in the ocean have already disappeared. Like Jonah, human redemption will require sacrifice. But without this sacrifice, we will someday be lost at sea, our bodies wrapped in seaweed, and there will be no big fish left to swallow us up and carry us to shore.

The beached gray whale that washed up in West Seattle.

The whale's stomach, full of trash.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2010 10:50 am

    so what yer saying is: eat more double downers? Will do! SAVE THE WHALES!!!!

    • April 20, 2010 10:57 am

      Wow, you saw right through my facade. I am actually being paid by KFC to advertise for their newest product, and this post was the nicest thing I could think of to say about it…

  2. Geoff permalink
    April 25, 2010 1:48 pm

    The CBC’s Wiretap had a great telling of Jonah and the Great Fish a few weeks ago, it’s worth a listen.

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