KOTA KINABALU: A whale shark was found dead in waters off the Tanjung Aru beach in Menumbok, some 140km from here.
Postmortem results showed the shark had died of starvation and indigestion as it had a huge plastic bag stuck in its stomach.
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the department sent a team to check on the carcass after being informed by a teacher who stumbled across it on Tuesday (Feb 5).
“When we heard the news, I directed our Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) to investigate," he said in a statement issued on Friday (Feb 8).
"Though whale sharks are not protected under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment, we were concerned that there might be other casualties involving marine mammals that might have also beached themselves on the same stretch of beach," he said.
Augustine said the team did not find any other beached carcasses but the postmortem found the large plastic bag in the whale shark.
"The plastic bag, measuring 46cm in length by 32cm in width, caused a physical obstruction in its gastrointestinal tract," he said.
WRU manager Dr Sen Nathan said it was evident the cause of death was due to intestinal obstruction leading to starvation and death.
He said plastic pollution in our oceans is a very serious threat to marine wildlife.
"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 is the best solution in protecting our ocean’s inhabitants,” Dr Sen said.
Plastics are often mistaken for jellyfish and other food sources by marine creatures, and have been found to be the source of death in many of them.