Pentagon balloon blamed for 'tragic' death on holiday island

Visitors to the beach reported the whale calf was still alive, but the balloon quickly took her life.

A pentagon-shaped helium balloon has tragically killed a whale calf discovered on a United States holiday holiday island.

While the animal was reported as stranded in shallow water by beachgoers visiting North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, she had taken her last breath by the time rescuers arrived. Originally found on October 30, the Gervais’ beaked whale’s death was initially a mystery, so she was transported to the state’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST) for necropsy.

“All appeared normal until the stomach was opened. In addition to some milk… a pentagonal plastic balloon was discovered, crumpled up and obstructing the passage of digesta,” CMAST said in a statement.

A pentagon balloon (inset) against a background showing Emerald Isle from above. Houses and beaches can be seen.
A pentagon balloon (pictured) was found inside the body of a baby whale on North Carolina's Emerald Isle. Source: Getty/CMAST

After the cause of death was confirmed, frustrated whale experts released an image of the unassuming 50cm plastic balloon that killed the 3-metre-long whale. In a public plea on social media, they asked people to stop releasing the decorations.

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Why helium balloons are so deadly to wildlife

The link between releasing helium-filled balloons and wildlife deaths is well established, and anyone doing so should be well aware of the risk.

In Australia, the first state to ban their release was Victoria, and Queensland followed its lead in September, legislating that the practice was now considered littering, or in some cases illegal dumping.

NSW and ACT lag behind these states, with regulations that ban the release of 20 balloons or more.

Left - sunset at Emerald Isle. Right - the dead whale.
The discovery of the dead whale has frustrated conservationists. Source: Getty/CMAST

Conservation group Australian Marine Conservation Society has campaigned for a national ban and limits on the sale of helium. Its petition has been signed by over 18,000 people.

Once released, balloons can travel for kilometres and once they reach the ocean they are often mistaken for food. In Australia, they are the biggest-known plastic killers of seabirds.

Once swallowed, they often block the passage to the stomach causing the bird, fish or mammal to slowly starve.

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