Humpback whales, once hunted nearly to extinction, started returning to Chilean seas in the 1990s. By 2003 so many had appeared that Chile created a protected coastal area, Francisco Coloane with marine park in it to assure the whales would have the nutrients they need to thrive.
Since Francisco Coloane was started, scientists have recorded over 100 sightings of different whales.
Biologist Jorge Acevedo, a researcher for the Foundation for Quaternary Studies, explained to El Mercurio that a host of different methods are used to track the humpbacks.
The whale’s tale is similar to fingerprints: “Every whale has a particular pattern on its tail fin that is unique to each individual, and we are able to put together their life stories by following their tails.”
When possible, the scientists place satellite transmitters on the whales to follow them.
Acevedo told reporters that at first the foundation believed the whales came from an Antarctic population en route to Ecuador where they reproduce.
However further analysis has determined that the whales are a local population that dwell in Chilean seas in the Carlos III Island area between January and April, after which they head to warmer waters in Panama.
The humpback whales feed mainly off of sardines, which has experts worried about the increase in fishing in the region.
Last August Chile’s Biomar foundation and Brazil’s energy company Petrobras co-signed a pact to conserve biodiversity, especially the protection of the humpback whale, in Chile’s Magallanes Region.
Last week Chilean Environment Minister María Ignacio Benítez travelled with a team of scientists, government authorities, and reporters to investigate how well the pact is being implemented and to look into possible opportunities for ecotourism.
Tourists who travel to Argentina’s Southern cone often plan whale-watching trips; with the increase in humpback whales off the coast of Punta Arenas, Chile’s government hopes to encourage similar tourism.
Minister Benítez worried over the future fate of the whales in Chile.
“Due to international regulation, it is impossible to prohibit coastal shipping in the region. These are international waters that host almost 200 ships monthly,” she said.
However the minister hopes to enforce stricter controls over the area through international cooperation and having the Chilean navy monitor all vessels in the area. “This is a national heritage that we have to care for.”
By Amanda Reynoso-Palley – Santiago Times