SUFB 066: Over 300 Cetaceans Found Dead in Chile

Speak Up For Blue Podcast

Before I get into today’s post, I want to take a second to explain why you should give Speak Up For Blue your money. Next Monday, Andrew is launching our first ever crowdfunding initiative on Patreon. This platform will allow our fans to help financially support the podcast and blog. Speak Up For Blue currently has no paid employees; Andrew and I do all of this in our free time. It’s extremely important to us that we keep our material ad-free, and that can get pretty expensive at times. Any contribution you could make would be greatly appreciated, and will go towards making sure we continue to put out quality content.

With that being said, let’s get into today’s episode. Last week, an article came out detailing the stranding of at least 337 sei whales in Patagonia, Chile. The sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) is an endangered marine mammal found throughout the pelagic zone of temperate ocean waters. Researchers estimate there are only around 12,000 individuals left, due to intense pressure from commercial whaling vessels up until the 1980s.

The first 20 stranded individuals were spotted back in April, but when researchers flew over the region two months later they realized the count was much higher. Unfortunately the death toll may rise, as the entire area has not yet been surveyed. No wounds were initially observed on the animals, causing experts to rule out whaling as the cause of this mass mortality.

Potential explanations for this event are a marine virus or a red tide. Red tides are a type of harmful algal bloom (HAB) caused by dinoflagellates, a type of phytoplankton. These organisms are very sensitive to environmental conditions, and as water temperatures and nutrient levels rise, so does their population. This “bloom” initially turns the water a reddish color, hence the name red tide. However, it can release toxic chemicals into the ocean and lower oxygen levels, killing off many marine organisms.

Man made climate change is causing sea surface temperatures to increase. The increased use of phosphorous based fertilizers, pesticides, and other non-point source pollutants are causing nutrient levels in our oceans to rise as well. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen an increased number of harmful algal blooms over the past few decades. However, a mass mortality event like the sei whale strandings should be a wake up call for communities that rely on these animals. Whale watching brings in an enormous amount of revenue for communities reliant on ecotourism. These large mammals are also instrumental in stabilizing marine ecosystems. It’s critical that we take measures to protect marine mammal populations throughout our oceans.

Enjoy the Podcast!

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