What a pity! Plastic bag kills whale shark in Sabah

Wildlife Rescue Unit personnel conducting the post-mortem on the whale shark at Pantai Tanjung Aru in Menumbuk. The other picture shows the plastic bag found stuck inside it.

KOTA KINABALU: A whale shark, which died due to a plastic bag blocking its digestive system, was washed up on a beach near here.

Wildlife authorities said the shark probably died of starvation after being unable to eat.

The carcass of the young whale shark was found by a school teacher jogging at Pantai Tanjung Aru in Menumbuk, about 150km southwest of here, on Feb 5.

After being alerted, Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga summoned a team from the department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) to investigate the incident.

WRU manager Dr Sen Nathan said, fortunately, the team did not find any other whale sharks beached nearby.

“When we did a post-mortem on the carcass, we were shocked to find a large plastic bag, measuring 46cm by 32cm, obstructing its gastrointestinal tract.”

He said this would have led the whale shark to starve and die.

Tuuga said whale sharks are not protected under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment but it was unfortunate that plastic bags were causing the deaths of marine animals.

“Plastic pollution in our oceans is a very serious threat to marine wildlife.

“This case is a grave reminder to us to dispose of plastic correctly. This will help protect our ocean’s inhabitants.”

A team from Sabah Fisheries Department, led by the Marine Resource Management Office head Lawrence Kissol, also visited the site to recover parts of the carcass for education and awareness programme purposes.

Kissol was similarly worried about the lack of awareness on proper waste disposal.

He said there were several recorded cases of marine mammals dying due to eating plastic, often mistaking them for jellyfish, in Peninsular Malaysia.

Kissol said whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) is a species that is not allowed to be exploited (to be caught, eaten, sold or exported). It is listed under the Fisheries Act 1985 and International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Act 2008.

Besides the head and fin, tissue samples and the cartilaginous skeleton were also taken for DNA and age analysis.

The other parts of the carcass were buried on site.