Evaluating the impacts of marine debris on cetaceans

Mar Pollut Bull. 2014 Mar 15;80(1-2):210-21. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.12.050. Epub 2014 Feb 11.


Global in its distribution and pervading all levels of the water column, marine debris poses a serious threat to marine habitats and wildlife. For cetaceans, ingestion or entanglement in debris can cause chronic and acute injuries and increase pollutant loads, resulting in morbidity and mortality. However, knowledge of the severity of effects lags behind that for other species groups. This literature review examines the impacts of marine debris on cetaceans reported to date. It finds that ingestion of debris has been documented in 48 (56% of) cetacean species, with rates of ingestion as high as 31% in some populations. Debris-induced mortality rates of 0-22% of stranded animals were documented, suggesting that debris could be a significant conservation threat to some populations. We identify key data that need to be collected and published to improve understanding of the threat that marine debris poses to cetaceans.

Keywords: Cetaceans; Entanglement; Ingestion; Marine debris; Plastic.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cetacea / physiology*
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Gastrointestinal Contents / chemistry
  • Plastics / analysis*
  • Waste Products / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants / analysis*
  • Water Pollution / statistics & numerical data


  • Plastics
  • Waste Products
  • Water Pollutants