Entanglement the Greatest Danger to Whales in Ecuador

July 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

From Cetaceosyfaunamarina’s Blog

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.


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§ One Response to Entanglement the Greatest Danger to Whales in Ecuador

  • Dear Word Press Colleague,

    In addition to the news posted last year regarding the humpback whale bycatch in Ecuadorian waters, a new peer reviewed paper published in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management last November (2011) underlines update information in the topic and management recommendation to mitigate the bycatch problem in mu country, Ecuador. Please, find below the abstract and highlights

    I will be happy to provide a pdf copy of the paper

    Best Regards

    Juan Jose Alava (PhD)

    Ocean & Coastal Management

    Volume 57, March 2012, Pages 34–43

    Assessing the impact of bycatch on Ecuadorian humpback whale breeding stock: A review with management recommendations

    Juan José Alava (School of Resource & Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada; Fundación Ecuatoriana para el Estudio de Mamíferos Marinos (FEMM), Guayaquil, Ecuador

    Maria José Barragán (Department of Geography. Memorial University of Newfoundland, 232 Elizabeth Avenue, St. John’s, NL, A1B 3X9, Canada)
    Judith Denkinger (Galápagos Institute for the Arts and Science (GAIAS), University San Francisco de Quito, Circulo de Cumbaya, Quito, Ecuador; Nazca, Institute of Marine Research, Cabo San Francisco, Cantón Muisne, Ecuador)

    Available online 22 November 2011.
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2011.11.003, How to Cite or


    The Southeastern Pacific Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae reproduces from June to September off the coast of Ecuador where a large artisanal fisheries fleet consisting of more than 15,000 vessels operates year round. The bycatch impact on this humpback population has been overlooked. Based on the annual bycatch mortality documented in this study, about 0.53% (95% CI 0.2–1.5%) of the population might be potentially bycaught in gillnets annually. Depending on the total population numbers estimated and reported elsewhere for this stock (2917 or 6277 whales), the bycatch mortality is equivalent to 15 or 33 whales per year. A significant correlation was found between the annual bycatch rate and fishing effort for the period 2000–2009 (r = 0.68, p < 0.05). An increase in artisanal fisheries may cause drastic consequences since humpback whales as K-strategists have low birth and survival rates. Calves are probably the most threatened age class due to gillnet entanglements in proximity to coastal waters where artisanal vessels operate. The Ecuadorian breeding grounds for humpback whales migrating from Antarctica might become a hot spot for bycatch in the Southeastern Tropical Pacific, if the bycatch rate continues to increase. Urgent mitigation strategies coupled with precautionary management and conservation measures are required to protect this vulnerable stock of whales in the long term. The consequences of humpback whale bycatch off coastal Ecuador and possible solutions to mitigate the bycatch are analyzed.


    ► Bycatch affects 15–33 humpback whales per year in coastal marine waters off Ecuador. ► An increase in fishery effort increases the bycatch rate of humpback whales. ► Best fishery practices and breeding area protection mitigate humpbacks’ bycatch. ► Precautionary actions can play an important role in conserving threatened cetaceans.

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