Entanglement the Greatest Danger to Whales in Ecuador
July 19, 2011 § 1 Comment
Freezing temperatures in Antarctica are warning indicates that it is time to migrate. The southeastern Pacific humpback whales know it and taking the journey. The course of 8 000 miles to the coast of Ecuador will demand less energy to remain in these icy waters, where, during the winter, food is scarce due to lack of sun and other climatic factors.
The humpback visitors arrive and the show starts. Breaths, jumps, spins …, a tourist attraction that impacts the economy of coastal areas, a sign that the warm Ecuadorian waters (about 25 degrees) helps keep the average temperature (37.5 degrees) of these giant mammals, an opportunity for the scientific community, local and international, research more about them.
Protecting these whales is the objective of marine biologist Fernando Felix of the Whale Museum in Salinas, Santa Elena. With thirty years of research related to whales, the scientist has good and bad news.
Among the good, the population that reaches coast of Ecuador is increased to 5% annually, but the bad news is that same increase triggers problems that if action is not taken will reduce the number of whales.
“The fishing nets installed along the coast are the main risk to the whales and for the fishermen laying the nets” said Felix, who explained that due to the lack of legislation and control over fishing methods, the installed fishing nets (2 km long and 8 feet deep or so) in which the whales, they need to surface every fifteen minutes to avoid drowning, they can stay tangled and die.
The fishermen often leave these nets “installed” in the sea, using floats and weights in the extremities, which extended to keep them waiting for their prey (large fish such as billfish, dorado …) but also tend to hook the boat the nets and just wait for the fish. “Imagine a whale collision with the net at that moment,” Felix poses. “The whale can drag the boat in its attempt to break free,” he says.
Given this, the biologist Gustavo Iturralde, project specialist and regulations of the Undersecretariat of Marine Coastal Management, said that within the Management Plan for the Coastal Wildlife Production Reserve de la Puntilla Santa Elena (protected area created in late 2008) who plan to submit in the coming months, covers the beginning of studies to determine the impact of networking and aims to craft agreements with fishermen in this area so that, between June and September, do not install gear that can affect the whales.
Among the latest data registered in the Population Study of the Humpback Whale in Salinas during the 2010 season, presented by the Whale Museum and annual activity report to the Ministry of Environment, outlined the presence of 839 whales in this sector in 2010 .
But according to annual surveys conducted since 1991 by the Ecuadorian Foundation for the Study of Marine Mammals and later by the Whale Museum, each year they are four to five whales entangled in gillnets craft, but presumably the number is 30 specimens, many of them drown off the coast and serve as food for other larger whales such as orcas.
But this bad news adds another: the recent business of swimming fish hatcheries. “Now there are about three experimental pools, but if the number grows, it would be bad for the habitat of whales,” says Felix. Meanwhile, Iturralde stressed that this activity is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. “This is in the exploratory stage. If it does materialize activity, the Ministry of Environment will take steps to protect the ecosystem, “he adds.
Among the major problems occur between June and September, are: the reduction of open water where the whales can navigate, the whales are at a greater risk of entanglement in addition the pollution of the seabed for the remains of food left by the pools.
And with these problems, the controls are minimal, the research concern, but argues that the controls Iturralde are concentrated in protected areas and the National Directorate of Aquatic Spaces is responsible for the spaces outside.
Meanwhile, violations continue. Although regulations for whale watching are in place. Whale watching boats are to depart from port with a captain or member of the Armed Forces, who are trained to operate boats in waters in and around whales. The previous Sunday, for example, around Salinas, the Journal found that private boats (not tourist) cruising near these giants without guests without regard for the regulations.