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The tide may be turning: Wal-Mart has recently announced that it will offer customers reusable bags made from recyclable materials.

And, want more evidence that plastic is bad for marine mammals? Just ask Pamela Sweeney of the Marine Animal Rescue Society here in Miami. She missed the deadline for this week's article on plastic bags, but we wanted to pass along her information anyway. Here's what she wrote:

"Here at MARS, in our 11 years, we tend to see many more entanglements in plastics and fisheries-related debris than death or injury by ingestion of plastic bags. For your own information, I've attached a picture of a severe entanglement on "Bonnie," a manatee known as the serial entangler. Her local hangout down near Key Largo/FL Keys must be infested with monofilament and other debris.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some 100,000 marine mammals die every year from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris.

The southeastern US has the highest number of strandings per year of any other region of the US and US territories. According to NOAA data, between 1990 and October 1998 there were 194 strandings of pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) between North Carolina and the FL Keys; in that time remains of plastic bags and other marine debris were recovered from the stomachs of 13 stranded animals, and cause of death by ingestion of debris was responsible in at least one animal.

Visit this link to learn about a pygmy sperm whale nicknamed "Inky." She stranded and was taken in by a rehab facility in the northeast US. She was given a grim prognosis until an endoscopy indicated she had large quantity of plastics debris in her stomach. They removed the debris and after a while longer in rehab she was released back into her natural environment.

Entanglement and ingestion are two primary problems that floating debris poses to marine wildlife, including marine birds (according to the EPA). Organizaitons like MARS work on a daily basis to relieve marine mammals and manatees in particular of their often fatal entanglements."

Form more information on MARS or to volunteer to help stranded marine animals, go to the group's website.

-- Tamara Lush

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