The Governor of Svalbard came across the fatally injured seal at Hamburgbukta in northwest Spitsbergen during a voyage in late July.
"We decided to euthanize it and close-up photos show that it was the right thing to do," said Eigil Movik, a senior advisor for nature resource management to the governor.
The animal, a harbor seal, was wrapped in a piece of strapping that had worked its way deep into into the skin. According to Movik, it probably became ensnared a while back and the plastic slowly gnawed its way into the skin as the animal grew.
"Whether it is a matter of months or years I dare not say anything about, but it's certainly a good while," he said in an interview with Svalbardposten. "It is quite clear that it caused pain and it is a terrible shame that our lenient handling of garbage brings such consequences."
"And you can only imagine how many such cases are undetected – how much suffering animals are exposed to," he added.
It's a sad, but not uncommon sight, said Fredrik Myhre, a WWF fisheries and marine advisor.
"We see it more often," he said. "Not only because more and more are out in the nature and can observe it, but also because the volume of waste continues to increase. In summary, it's due to our overconsumption, and inability to recycle and dispose of our waste properly."
A total of 8.8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans each year, according to an article published in the journal Science earlier this year.
The estimated total is equivalent to five shopping bags of trash for every 30 centimeters of coastline, said Jenna Jambeck, lead author of the study and professor of environmental science at the University of Georgia, in an interview with The New York Times in February.
"The total equation is sobering," she said.
What we actually see of marine pollution, whether here or elsewhere in the world, is just the tip of the garbage mountain.
The rest ends in a huge, but invisible garbage dump.
According to Myhre, WWF estimates 70 percent sinks to the bottom and remains there. For a long time.
"In many places, the seabed is covered with so much plastic that you would not believe it," he said.
READ MORE: http://svalbardposten.no/index.php?page=vis_nyhet&NyhetID=6186&sok=1" target="_blank">"I lack words. This is depressing."
Many plastics are highly resistant to the forces of nature and take a long time to decompose. The wildlife and ecosystems are therefore threatened for a long time after the waste appears.
"It is robbing resources," Myhre said. "Fishing lines and gear are designed to withstand wind and weather. They settle down and are 'ghost fishers' for many tens and hundreds of years."
"Around one million sea birds, 100,000 marine mammals and an unknown number of other animals are injured or die needlessly every year," he said.
Ultraviolet radiation and mechanical forces "grind" down plastic from its original form in the long term.
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But with smaller sizes come new problems. Bits of a few millimeters – so-called microplastics – absorb pollutants and are consumed by plankton and other species who in turn are food for larger animals. As a result, the plastic and harmful substances are accumulated up through the food chain.
"Additionally, plastic prevents stomach nutrient absorption," Myhre said. "A humpback whale that was taken outside Spain had a total of 17 kilograms of plastic."
The problem is increasing. Rapidly.
"If no action is taken to deal with the waste, the amount of plastic garbage that can end up in the ocean may be ten times greater by 2025," wrote Jambeck and the other researchers in the Science study earlier this year.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini