The well-known whale watching town of Puerto Madryn, Patagonia was in the news recently when the town’s officials decided to grant permission to kill 1,200 seagulls (Kelp Gull, Larus dominicanus) per year. The reason given was that the increased bird population has been picking at the blubber of the Southern Right Whales that breed and give birth in this area. Several whales suffered wounds that became infected and it appears that the whales are moving further away from the coast, thus causing the officials to worry about loss of revenue from tourism.
In October 2010, Sea Shepherd Argentina investigated this case and came to the conclusion that it’s not the birds that are to blame, but human presence. It is true that the seagull numbers have exploded in the area over the last couple of years. It is also true that they are picking at the blubber of the whales, causing the injuries. What has not been said however, is that these birds are being drawn to the area by two human-related problems:
- Open-air garbage dumps- it’s a commonly known fact that seagulls are attracted to an easy meal and garbage left out in the open attracts seagulls worldwide. The easy food source and continued availability of it is causing the seagull numbers to explode.
- Discarded fish guts and waste from fishing vessels (trawlers) operating in the area- their waste is simply discarded into the ocean where the Southern Right Whales breed. The seagulls are again attracted to this and their already increased numbers have grown even further. An additional problem, and main cause of the actual picking at the whales, is that the seagulls mistake the whale’s backs for fish guts. You could say they are in a ‘food frenzy.’
Further aggravating the problem is rising ocean temperatures and the spread of germs by the seagulls. Several of the whale’s injuries are from a so far unknown origin, but it can be expected that the transfer from garbage dumps to the whale’s backs could very well be the cause for some of these.
Sea Shepherd Argentina has been talking to the town’s officials in hopes of eliminating the open-air dumps. Recycling plants have indeed replaced all three plants, but according to people in the area, much of the garbage has yet to be cleaned up.
As for the trawlers, no action whatsoever has being taken.
The decree to kill the seagulls is not publicized because the authorities are well aware this may cause an outbreak of protests, nevertheless it has now become public knowledge. The seagulls are being shot, put in gas chambers, and their nests are being destroyed, killing the eggs and their young.
In 2010 Sea Shepherd Argentina was alone in the fight to defend the seagulls. We were accused of only trying to establish our name in the country. Now many NGO’s are advocating for the same. It is time to keep pressure on the local authorities and have them reverse their decree.