Juan Carlos Cárdenas N. y Patricio Igor Melillanca
The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service (Sernapesca) of the Magallanes region, together with the staff of the Skorpios Patagonia Business Group, extracted on April 29 the corpse of a juvenile male Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), of 10.4 meters in length and approximately 15 tons, from under the loading and services dock used by the salmon industry in Puerto Natales, Chilean Patagonia.
This procedure was carried out without respecting the rescue protocol for protected aquatic species, nor the corresponding necropsy to determine the cause of death of the cetacean, the carcass of the animal being sent expressly to the saturated municipal landfill of household waste in Puerto Natales.
During this irregular official process, a bruise could be seen on one of the corpse’s flanks and part of its tail fin was severed, supporting the hypothesis that it had been collided by an industrial cargo ship, the number and traffic of which increases over the years on the fjords and inland channels of Patagonia, without real government control.
The regional Sernapesca tried to justify the rapid shipment of the Sei whale carcass to the residential waste dump, arguing for health reasons (“advanced state of decomposition”), and logistics, “because being under the pier made it impossible to carry out any type of study in the exemplary” (1).
Observers present at the landfill refute the existence of an advanced state of decomposition that would prevent performing the autopsy and obtaining information and biological samples.
Colonialist actions ignore the Kawesqar worldview
The Kawesqar Community for the Defense of the Sea addressed an open letter to the presidential delegate Romina Álvarez, the mayor of Ultima Esperanza Antonieta Oyarzo, and Esteban Ávila, port captain (Chilean Navy), indicating that “the decision that it be taken to the landfill represents an offense to the spirit of this great animal (Apala, in the Kawesqar language), and to the memory of our territory. There was not even an investigation into the causes of his death, and clearly at this point it will be impossible to know what caused his death.»
Something smells bad in the far west southern salmon
The questioned government procedure evidences an abandonment of duties by the regional supervisory body and its submission to the pressures of the shipping and salmon companies, who impose their rules and economic interests on the so-called «Wild South Salmon of Patagonia» over health and environmental regulations in force. The elimination of the corpse of the Sei whale would have responded to business pressure so that shipping operations at its dock were not hindered, and to avoid the application of the regulations and established necropsy procedures to determine the cause and those responsible for its death, avoiding subsequent legal and business problems.
Communicational marketing to disguise the abandonment of duties of the Chilean State
Due to the growing public pressure on social networks, Sernapesca from the Magallanes region carried out a “damage control” communication action. To do so, he returned five days later to the municipal landfill, together with a team from the Río Seco Natural History Museum, to obtain morphometric records and perform a partial necropsy of the carcass of the specimen.
In turn, in order to divert political and public attention from its non-compliance with the established legal procedure, the state oversight body made two gimmicky announcements: The donation of the skeleton of the Sei whale to the Río Seco Natural History Museum, and indicating its availability to coordinate with the Kawesqar communities to carry out a ritual ceremony, – similar to the one carried out in April 2021-, where a community of the Williche people made a prayer prior to the burial of a blue whale killed by a collision with a cargo ship in the Chumilden sector, Los Lagos region (2) (3).
Stop and make transparent the mortalities of whales due to unregulated shipping traffic in Chilean Patagonia
In the regions of Los Lagos, Aysen and Magallanes, a fleet of up to 729 large industrial ships linked to the salmon industry operates, which represents 83% of the total fleets that sail in the Patagonian regions (4).
This fleet provides daily freight, infrastructure, and industrial feed services for the existing 1,357 farm concessions. Of these, 394 farms are located in the coastal areas of national parks and marine protected areas.Due to this, the overlap between the intense and unregulated shipping traffic and the feeding areas and migratory routes of the various whale populations, currently constitutes the greatest threat to the conservation of these marine mammals in southern Chile.
Researchers have recorded at least 40 whales killed or injured by interactions with boats over the past decade. This figure is just the «tip of the iceberg» as it is underestimated because most of the collisions are not reported, many of the cetaceans killed by the impact sink, are lost offshore or die later.
According to veterinarian Frederick Toro, – who analyzed documented cases of whale and dolphin stranding between 1968 and 2020 – these have increased in recent years, with an average of seven annual strandings, one of the highest figures globally (5).
During the last week of April 2022, three deaths of large whales due to anthropic causes were recorded. On April 26, a humpback whale (Megaptera novaengliae) was found floating in an experimental piure (Pyura chilensis) farming system in Caleta Huiro, Los Ríos region, without the cause of death being established.
On April 27, a Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera brydei) stranded in the Mantagua sector, Valparaíso Region, without establishing the cause of death, and on April 28 the Sei whale stranded at the Skorpios Group dock in Puerto Natales, due to a collision with a boat (6), (7).
It was striking that in the cases of Caleta Huiro and the Puerto Natales pier, the regional inspection body (Sernapesca) avoided performing an autopsy to determine the causes of death, despite having response teams.
Due to the increasing number of cases of stranding of cetaceans in Chile due to human (anthropic) actions, it is imperative to know the exact cause of death of each of the deceased whales, in order to develop an effective control and elimination strategy.
The Ecoceanos Centre and the Cetacean Conservation Center (CCC) point out that the death of the whale specimen in Puerto Natales exposes the falsity of the salmon marketing campaign aimed at North American consumers under the slogan of «Healthy food and respectful of the environment».
As a measure of pressure on the Chilean State and salmon companies, with the aim of protecting whale populations and their ecosystems in Chilean Patagonia, both marine conservation organizations call on national and international consumers boycott to avoid consuming Chilean Chemical salmon. industry, and for the US government to apply the 2017 Import Rule, where Chilean exports of Atlantic salmon, Coho salmon and Rainbow trout must demonstrate that they do not violate the standards of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act so that their productions can access said market.