The Giants of the Atacama DesertLatest update February 14, 2019 Started on February 5, 2019
Every year blue whales and fin whales arrive to the driest desert of the world for feeding. I aim to study site fidelity, habitat use and anthropogenic threats, such as marine traffic, affecting the welfare of these giants.
There are not only giants in the coast of Atacama Desert. In our research surveys we find also one of the smallest cetacean species, Burmeister's porpoise. This porpoise is endemic of South America, from Perú to Uruguay. However, little is known about its abundance, distribution or site fidelity. In the 70's decade, fishermen started to catch Burmeister's porpoise for their consumption. Despite the banned of cetacean catches, nowadays by catch of Burmeister's porpoise still happening in the coast of Chile. When porpoises are in the nets, they die and local fishermen butchered their meat for human consumption or for use it as bait in the shark or crab fisheries.
Last week in our research survey, we found a bay full of Burmeister's porpoises in Mejillones. They were feeding in anchovy and we saw also a calf!! It is very excited to see them in their natural habitat. However, by catch is not the only threat they suffered, marine traffic, underwater noise and pollution may affect their welfare and survival. We aim to determinate the abundance, distribution and site fidelity of Burmeister's porpoise in Mejillones bay, thanks to the fund supported by the Porpoise Conservation Society, Canadá.
I am very excited to share with all of you our publication regarding marine traffic and collision risk with fin whales and humpback whales in Mejillones Bay. Our study has been published in the Scientific Journal Marine Policy. From land based observation point I characterize the navigation path and speed of large cargo vessels, industrial fishing boats and artisanal fishing boats. In addition I determined density areas of different cetacean species found in the bay such as Burmeister's porpoise, dusky dolphin, long-beak common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Risso's dolphin, fin whales and humpback whales. I performed a spatial overlap analysis in ArcGis to detect those conflictive areas where cetaceans and navigation paths overlapped.
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Since I started my PhD in 2014 I have described cetacean species inhabit the coastal upwelling Humboldt Current System in Atacama Desert Coast, Chile. Every year we observe fin whales and blue whales in feeding behavior in very shallow waters close to shore. I was surprised to see fin whales, the second biggest animal of the world, while having breakfast from a restaurant on the beach! I think Atacama Desert coast is one of the few places were fin whales are so close to shore. However, they are affected by numerous threats as marine traffic or pollution in the region. The increasing mining industry in Atacama Desert drives to the building of numerous maritime terminals in the coast shipping supplies as carbon, oil, lead, ammonia or sulfuric acid for the mining proceses. From my land-based research, I determined the presence of fin whales in the bay and the shipping lines path and large cargo vessels speed in Mejillones Bay. The collision risk is imminent, as highest density shipping lines and 95% kernel density distribution of fin whales overlap. However, to promote marine spatial planing and speed regulation I need more evidence of the collision risk. With this project I aim to explore these giants in the sea, detecting marks and propeller scars in the bodies of fin whales and blue whales by using ROV and photo-ID, in order to study their gender and site fidelity, behavior. If the same whales arrive every year for feeding to Mejillones Bay, and they show marks of propeller cuts, that means that they are susceptible to collide with large cargo vessels or fishing boats.
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