A beached whale shark starved to death after swallowing a large plastic bag that caused an obstruction in its stomach.
The incident took place on Tanjung Aru Beach in the district of Kuala Penyu in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah when an early-morning jogger spotted the 4.6-metre (15-foot) long carcass of a male whale shark (Rhincodon typus).
The filter-feeding whale shark, the largest known fish species, is considered ‘endangered’ on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
According to Sen Nathan of the state’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), a large plastic bag was discovered inside its stomach during an autopsy.
He said: “When a postmortem was done, we were shocked to find a large plastic bag measuring 46 centimetres in height by 32 centimetres in width that was causing a physical obstruction in its gastrointestinal tract.
“It was evident that the cause of death was due to intestinal obstruction leading to starvation and death.”
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said: “This should be a grave reminder to us that disposing of plastic correctly, or even better not using plastic bags and other plastic paraphernalia at all, would be the best solution to protecting our ocean’s inhabitants.”
According to wildlife experts, plastic objects are often mistaken for jellyfish and other sources of food by marine animals.
Meanwhile, the whale shark’s 150-kilogramme (331-lbs) head has reportedly been removed for research purposes.
The whale shark is one of the largest animals in the world, with an average length of 9.8 metres (32 feet). It is unclear how old this one was.