Late last year, fishermen began finding dead dolphins, hundreds of them, washed up on Peru’s northern coast. Now, seabirds have begun dying, too, and the government has yet to conclusively pinpoint a cause.
Officials insist that the two die-offs are unrelated. The dolphins are succumbing to a virus, they suggest, and the seabirds are dying of starvation because anchovies are in short supply.
But even three months after officials began testing the dolphins, the government has not released definitive results, and there is growing suspicion among the public and scientists that there might be more to the story. Some argue that offshore oil exploration could be disturbing wildlife, for example, and others fear that biotoxins or pesticides might be working their way up the food chain.
At least 877 dolphins and more than 1,500 birds, most of them brown pelicans and boobies, have died since the government began tracking the deaths in February, the Environment Ministry said last week. The dolphins, many of which appeared to have decomposed in the ocean before washing ashore, were found in the Piura and Lambayeque regions, not far from the border with Ecuador.
The seabirds, which seem mostly to have died onshore, have been found from Lambayeque to Lima. “Never in my 40 years as a fisherman have I seen anything like this,” said Francisco Ñiquen Rentería, the president of the Association of Artisanal Fishermen in Puerto Eten, in the Lambayeque region. “Sometimes in the past, you’d randomly see a dead dolphin or a pelican, but this, what’s happening now, is really alarming.”
“It is odd indeed,” Gabriel Quijandría, the deputy environment minister, acknowledged in an e-mail. “But they are not related.”
The federal Ocean Institute has said that the most likely culprit in the dolphin deaths is the morbillivirus, from a family of viruses linked to previous mass deaths of marine mammals, Mr. Quijandría said, though officials in recent days have sounded less certain.
For the seabirds, he wrote, the “most plausible hypothesis so far” from the National Agricultural Health Service is that they are dying from a lack of food, mainly anchoveta (Engraulis ringens), a Peruvian anchovy, as a result of the sudden heating of coastal waters.
The Environment Ministry said the dolphin deaths had no link to fisheries, red tides or other biotoxins, bacteria, heavy metals or pesticides. It said it had also ruled out any connection to offshore seismic testing by companies to locate oil and gas deposits under the seabed.
Still, fishermen, environmentalists and others suspect that government officials are not being completely candid.
The discovery of dead animals on beaches near Lima, the capital, in recent days has complicated matters. Over the weekend, the Health Ministry issued an alert advising people to avoid the waters around Lima and to the north, “until we know the cause of the recent deaths of marine species.”
It advised people not to eat raw seafood, an ingredient of the national favorite ceviche, and recommended that people disposing of dead marine animals wear gloves and masks. The warning sowed confusion, given earlier government statements indicating that the seabirds were probably starving rather than falling ill from some disease.
The Peruvian coast, nourished by the cold Humboldt Current, is one of the richest marine habitats on earth. Flowing north from Antarctic waters, the current lifts nutrients from the ocean depths into zones nearer the surface.
So plentiful are the plankton in these waters that the area has the world’s largest fishery, focused on the anchoveta. The fish is an important component of the diets of the dolphins, seabirds and other predators.
The Environment Ministry says that data from the South American institute for the study of the effect of El Niño show that coastal water temperatures have been above average in recent months. The anchoveta prefer the colder water, and if they descend below a depth of six or seven feet the pelicans cannot reach them.
This article written by David Jolly from Paris, and Andrea Zarate from Lima, Peru was published by the New York Times.
Share on social media:
You may also like:
Top-Viewed Posts Last 30 Days
- POLL: Should Finland’s 235 wolves be culled? [1652 Views]
- POLL: Should all tiger farms in China be closed down? [1626 Views]
- POLL: Should the Wildlife Trust’s campaign to slaughter grey squirrels be stopped? [1614 Views]
- POLL: Should Trump disband USDA Wildlife “Killing” Services? [1260 Views]
- POLL: Should Alaska’s refuges be opened for hunting again? [1182 Views]
- POLL: Should more bear hunting licenses be issued? [1154 Views]
- Gray Squirrels versus Red Squirrels – The Facts [917 Views]
- POLL: Should Australia’s feral cats be culled? [841 Views]
- Why do birds sing? [639 Views]
- An elk’s-eye view of migrating through Yellowstone [576 Views]
Top-Viewed Posts Last 12 Months
- White Killer Whale Adult Spotted for First Time in Wild [42059 Views]
- POLL: Should there be a worldwide ban on fur farms? [16807 Views]
- POLL: Should fur farming be banned in the European Union? [13865 Views]
- Gray Squirrels versus Red Squirrels – The Facts [12064 Views]
- POLL: Should Congress disband Wildlife “Killing” Services? [11117 Views]
- POLL: Should driven grouse-shooting be banned? [8614 Views]
- POLL: Should grouse shooting on highland estates be banned? [8309 Views]
- POLL: Should the annual Canadian seal hunt be banned? [8089 Views]
- POLL: Should black bears be killed for Royal Guards’ fur caps? [8049 Views]
- POLL: Should China’s dog meat festival be banned? [7417 Views]