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Relevant debris to be targeted for cetaceans: a review of available information

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Nino Pierantinio, Mark Simmonds, Sonja Eisfeld-Pierantonio

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International Whaling Commission


The 2017-2019 Work Programme of The Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area (ACCOBAMS) requested an assessment of the impact of plastic bags, microplastics and other plastic materials ingested by cetaceans. This review considers the available information, which has increased in recent years, although a clear and quantifiable assessment of effects specifically on cetaceans remains elusive. Here we identify the cetacean species in which impacts of plastic debris and, more generally, marine litter have been documented. The types of debris affecting cetaceans are also presented.

We conclude that cetaceans are affected by a wide range of types of debris and that effects range from negligible, through chronic to debris-related mortalities, although clear cases of ingested marine debris causing deaths remain few and scattered. We are unable at this time to point at any specific debris type as presenting a particular threat to cetaceans but we do make a series of recommendations intended to help this situation to be better understood and addressed. These includes development and dissemination of standard post mortem protocols and further research to identify hot-spots.

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