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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands -- A simple plastic shopping bag caused the death of the whale Temata.
In July the stranded beaked whale affectionately named Temata brought communities across Rarotonga together in a large-scale rescue operation to try and save the 20-year-old female.
Local whale researcher Nan Hauser has reported that Temata fell ill after she ingested a plain white shopping bag, which led Temata to seek out shallow water for comfort. A chain reaction in other organs in her body was the cause of her eventual collapse and death.
"I was very saddened to learn that Temata, who had won the hearts of everyone on Rarotonga, was killed by human impact," says Hauser.
"We are all guilty of pollution and we have to be more responsible for our trash."
Hauser conducted the necropsy on the whale at Massey University in New Zealand where the stomach, lungs and heart were analysed.
These samples had been kept in Hauser's freezer before they could be shipped to New Zealand.
The story of Temata travelled far and wide as scientists, vets and marine mammal researchers from around the globe flocked to the university to witness the necropsy.
"We had an audience who wanted to watch the process and hopefully learn more about whales," says Nan.
From the 11 chambers of Temata's stomach, Hauser and her team collected specimens of squid beaks, octopus beaks, fish eye balls and in one chamber the deadly plastic bag.
Hauser says whales feed at night and use a technique called 'suction feeding' which works like a vacuum cleaner.
"In the dark the plastic bag probably looked like a jellyfish with the ocean current forcing the bag to open and close, mimicking the way a jellyfish swims," says Hauser.
"Because whales are suction feeders it would have just swallowed up the plastic bag which then gave Temata a belly ache." After ingesting the plastic bag, a chain reaction began which led to the death of Temata.
As it happened, Temata sought out shallow water to rest her stomach on, for comfort, but her ordeal over the rugged Rarotonga reef left her battered, bruised and stressed.
This then caused her lungs to collapse and her livers to fail-all because of a single plastic bag.
The tiny island nation of Tuvalu is currently running a huge campaign against plastic bags. Hauser says that the story and images of Temata will be used in their battle for a plastic bag free nation. "We all use plastic bags and we are all guilty of not looking after our rubbish," says Hauser.
Temata touched an emotional chord in all of us as she battled to survive and in losing that battle, she has left us a very important message.
Pollution kills. Things as insignificant as our plastic bags are killing what make this planet unique-it's life.
Reuse and recycle your rubbish and save our earth.