When we tell people that animals are going extinct, most of them have already heard it so many times that it just goes right over their heads. A list of animals affected by plastic pollution? Sure, maybe. But a list of the cutest animals being affected by plastic pollution? Now that’s advanced stuff right there.
Don’t get me wrong, whether animals are “cute” or not shouldn’t dictate how much we care about them. But let’s face it, some people need that extra little push to get them saying hey, if the cute ones are dying, then maybe this is a problem after all.
Sadly enough, these sweethearts find themselves entangled in man-made pollution a little too often. Most of the time, seals are captured by lost or discarded fishing equipment (like nets) that are floating around in the ocean. This loose equipment is commonly referred to as “ghost gear” because of its hidden nature, which accounts for at least 10% of all the pollution that’s found in water - that’s over 640,000 tons of ghost gear threatening marine life. For reference, the average airplane is 60 tons, so that equates to over 10,000 airplanes worth of fishing equipment threatening marine life.
Wildlife experts vouch that the seal is an intelligent, curious creature. With puppy-dog eyes that could make us all swoon, seals can see underwater in dim environments and explore deep blue waters. What’s sad is that their curiosity is often what kills them. Simply swimming around, exploring their own habitats, or eating a fish could cost a seal its life. While they love exploring their environments, the last thing that a seal would expect would be to get trapped in a man-made fishing net. Seals aren’t built for disentangling themselves from our nets, so they end up struggling until the very last breath and drown in their own homes.
Imagine this: an unsuspecting dolphin swimming around in its own habitat, eating his food and enjoying the beautiful blue waters. A relatively small plastic container floats along the surface of the water, following closely behind some delicious-looking codfish. The dolphin enjoys the cod, and then, unfortunately, also swallows the container. Despite its small size, the plastic container makes its way down his body, blocking his digestive tract. The container is now inside of him, and the plastic releases toxic chemicals that fill his belly with man-made nasties. The chemicals make him sick, the container causes an obstruction in his stomach, and he is now slowly starving to death.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a made-up story - it’s an everyday reality for these animals. Dolphins that eat small fish can very easily mistake plastic containers, bottles and bags for food. These adorable, intelligent animals end up consuming plastic debris and harming their bodies as a result of our carelessness. A study found that nearly 10% of dolphins and whales have plastic materials stuck in their digestive tracts. Not only is it a sad reality for dolphins, but it’s also sad to hear that these beautiful creatures are dying every day because of our own carelessness and harmful habits.
3. Chipmunks + Squirrels
Chipmunks and squirrels swallow plastic objects just as often as dolphins might. These furry creatures that we see in our parks and playgrounds tend to munch on plastics they stumble upon in their habitats. Fun fact: chipmunks and squirrels are so intuitive that they can sense food buried underneath a foot of snow! Digging their way in, they use their impressive sense of smell to lead them directly to their prize.
These furry creatures are always fiending around, searching for snacks to munch on. Unfortunately, due to their intuitive nature, they often find themselves in dangerous situations when our litter ends up on the ground. While a family enjoying a sunny picnic at the park might not think about picking up a plastic bottle cap that rolls off their table, a chipmunk might see this bottle cap, smell some leftover juice on it, and think of it as a delicious treat. Chipmunks and squirrels don’t usually consume plastic because it looks appetizing, but because they sense food that was once in it or stumble upon leftover scraps.
Otters are another species of unfortunate marine animals who are threatened by plastic debris floating around in their habitats. Like seals and dolphins, these sleek swimmers stumble upon plastic in their environments, mistake them for food and get entangled in them.
On top of that, do you remember that ghost gear from before? Well, ghost gear has a yucky habit of breaking down into microplastics - tiny particles of plastic that are capable of causing great destruction. Not only do otters fill up on toxins after consuming plastic bags, but they also ingest microplastics that roll off of random fishing nets.
P.S: Did you know that otters hold hands when they sleep? The mother and pup hold hands so that they don’t drift away mid-dream. Ridiculously adorable, and also just a smart strategy.
Like our friendly otters, forest animals like deer are also susceptible to consuming or being trapped in plastic litter. For instance, police in Florida found a deer with a plastic Doritos bag stuck over its head. Luckily they were able to get to it in time, saving the deer from suffocation and overheating. But unfortunately, the reality is that these animals don’t always to turn out to be so lucky.
Victims of plastic pollution come in all shapes, sizes and furry forms, but one thing that all of these adorable creatures have in common is that they often find themselves quite literally surrounded by our mistakes. It’s sad to think that something as simple as a plastic bottle that’s left on a beach is what’s ruining the habitats of many animals each and every day. But when it’s all said and done, we know that we shouldn’t care about them just because they’re cute. We are affecting the lives of living creatures who are suffering and facing the consequences of plastic pollution as a result of our carelessness. We can always strive to be more conscientious, and we can aim to spread this message to those around us, making us all more conscious and aware.