A sperm whale that died after becoming stranded on a beach in the Hebrides was found to have a giant “litter ball” in its stomach at the time of its death.

Members of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (Smass) recovered rope, plastic cups and gloves among a host of other plastic debris during a necropsy of the partially-exploded animal near Seilebost beach on the Isle of Harris.

However, the organisation, which is dedicated to investigating the deaths of aquatic mammals, said they were unable to confirm whether the plastic caused the animal’s death.

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Researchers who examined the animal found its stomach contained almost 100kg of land and sea waste, including sections of net, rope, plastic cups, bags, gloves, packing straps and tubing.

A post on the group’s Facebook page read: “The animal wasn’t in particularly poor condition, and whilst it is certainly plausible that this amount of debris was a factor in its live stranding, we actually couldn’t find evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines.”

HeraldScotland:

“This amount of plastic in the stomach is nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion, and serves to demonstrate, yet again, the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life.

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Earlier this year, Smass revealed figures suggesting 2018 was a record-breaking year for animal strandings with more than 900 reported across the country.

The 20-tonne animal was buried in the sand after the group decided it was too heavy to move back into the water.