Recent whale sightings in Wellington may just be whales trying to stockpile plastic bags

Scientists are concerned whale civilizations will never advance if we stop sending them plastic bags.

Scientists are concerned whale civilizations will never advance if we stop sending them plastic bags.

Department of Conservation experts believe that recent sightings of Southern right whales in Wellington Harbour may be related to the upcoming plastic bag ban that will be implemented by the government.

Southern right whales have been spotted in the harbour twice this year in a relatively short space of time, fuelling speculation about why now.

But Nadine Bott, a DoC whale expert, says the answer is likely to be quite a simple one.

“Just as all of us at home are rushing to the supermarket, putting a miniature Picnic Bar in one whole plastic bag, and then re-entering the supermarket only to do that fifty more times over, whales, too, are stockpiling for the inevitable,” she said. “Where we get our plastic bags from supermarkets and drawers we haven’t opened for years, whales and dolphins get their plastic bags when we throw ours into the ocean.

“If we stop using them, their supply dries up.”

Bott said the whale and its calf that visited Wellington in August were both seen leaving with a “long string” of plastic bags tailing behind them, that they’d likely collected from the rubbish flowing into Lambton Harbour and Oriental Bay.

“So while some would say that maybe we’re seeing these whales due to a rebounding population, the truth may actually be that it’s a sign of a community about to fall on hard times.”

National Party environment spokesman Scott Simpson is calling on the government to address the problem when the ban is finally implemented.

“Of all the people I hear from about this plastic bag ban,” he said, “it’s more than anything whales and dolphins and seagulls and small crustaceans and they ask me two things more than anything else: they ask me ‘Who are you?’ and the second thing they ask me is: ‘Where are we going to get our plastic bags? Because we can’t manufacture them because we don’t have hands,’ and I take that seriously.”

Simpson suggested the government could charter fishing boats to sail out into the ocean “where we know there are whale populations,” and dump thousands of plastic bags, “at least as a short term solution.”

“We can’t just cut off their supply, throw our hands in the air, and say ‘not our problem,'”, he said.

But Minister for the Environment David Parker said New Zealand was a small country, and he was confident whales would get their plastic bags “from just about everywhere else.”