Climate change suspected as whales wash up dead in Chile

A researcher with a whale that was found dead on the shore near the city of Coquimbo in northern Chile. Experts say that whales in the Pacific off Chile's coast are acting unusually.
A researcher with a whale that was found dead on the shore near the city of Coquimbo in northern Chile. Experts say that whales in the Pacific off Chile's coast are acting unusually.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SANTIAGO (Chile) • Several large whales have washed up dead in recent months on beaches in northern Chile, where scientists suspect they are moving to in increasing numbers because of climate change.

After the beaching of hundreds of dead whales in the south last year, the trend has now shifted to areas where the phenomenon was previously rare.

Last weekend, a 14m-long fin whale was found dead on rocks at a beach near the city of Coquimbo. This prompted experts from the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca) to investigate. They say that the whales in the Pacific off Chile's coast are acting unusually.

"We have detected a rise in recorded cases of beached whales on the coast, which is not normal," Sernapesca biologist Gerardo Cerda said.

There have been three reported beachings in the region this year and six last year, Sernapesca said in a statement.

SURGE IN MARINE LIFE

There has been an increase in marine life in the area, possibly due to climate change. That may have increased the diversity of the whales.

PROFESSOR FREDERICK TORO, a conservation medicine professor at Andres Bello University.

The whales migrate north from November to March, gathering in a marine reserve around Chile's Charanal Islands. Whale numbers there have swelled over recent years, possibly drawn by an increase in the numbers of krill - a crustacean prized by the marine mammals.

"There has been an increase in marine life in the area, possibly due to climate change," said conservation medicine professor Frederick Toro, of Andres Bello University. "That may have increased the diversity of the whales."

The rise in whale beachings might also be a natural consequence of the greater number of whales now in the region, Dr Cerda said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'Climate change suspected as whales wash up dead in Chile'. Print Edition | Subscribe