Hiroya Minakuchi/Minden Pictures
We may think of them as pesky birds that snatch picnic lunches from beach-goers, but gulls have incredibly powerful beaks, which they use when feeding in the wild. For the past 16 years, these birds have been attacking and feeding on southern right whales when they surface for air off Argentina’s Valdés Peninsula, a popular whale-watching tourist spot. Argentine authorities want to shoot the birds, but activists say measures should be taken to contain seagull populations. Kelp gulls peck the whales’ skin and blubber, often leaving the whales with large open sores. The gulls’ primary targets are mother and calf pairs.
Whales have learned, however, to take evasive action; rather than breaching the water to display their tails, they come up just long enough to breathe. Argentine officials announced plans last summer to shoot the gulls, drawing fire from conservationists, who blame the problem on humans. They say the answer is to close local open-air garbage dumps and stop fishermen and a nearby seafood plant from dumping scraps into the water.
Shooting the gulls is “surely not the most pleasant measure, but it’s necessary to do something to control a situation that has been growing after many years of inaction,” said environmental minister Eduardo Maza. Maza says officials will also address the area’s trash problem: “All the garbage in the protected Peninsula Valdés area that isn’t recyclable will be properly disposed of, which will enable us to mitigate the open-air garbage dumps,” Maza said.
Did You Know: 482 right whale deaths were recorded off the peninsula between 2005 and 2011, with more than 100 recorded in 2010 and 2011. The vast majority of strandings were calves less than three months old.