New Whales Found Dead in Golfo de Penas


The outgoing tide reveals the whole of a recently deceased whale under a Patagonian deluge. Caleta Buena, February 23 (c) Katie McConnell 2016

Febuary 16th, 2016

Writing from Caleta Buena, the small beach where photos and videos of the dead whales in Golfo de Penas first seized international concern.

Caleta Buena is a small watery offshoot of Estero Slight, a long fjord carved into the southern heart of the Taitao Peninsula, on the northwest side of Golfo de Penas. This is the region where Dr. Häussermann first reported 31 dead whales to the Chilean authorities.

IMG_9698Image: V.Hausserman (overflight Golfo de Penas, June 2015)

Since arriving to Slight four days ago, we have been working overtime to revisit every previously reported whale, taking observational measurements of size, state of decomposition, and orientation. Without having completed all surveys for this region, we already have found 27* whale skeletons and believe them to be the skeletons of last years casualties. Of the 337 total reported dead whales, this expedition has already surveyed nearly one hundred.

Perhaps the most poignant finding, however, are 8 newly deceased whales, with 2 reports of more from local fisherman and sailors. Of these eight, 5 are here in Estero Slight.
Of these, three are estimated to have died within the last few weeks. We will right away report this finding to Fiscalia de Aysén and Sernapesca.

Although we came prepared with an extensive study regime, a new embargo placed on the whales last November by Chilean authorities made any manipulation of the whales illegal, thereby crippling a vital component of our current investigation. This embargo was placed because of the existence of a whale protection law in Chile which requires Fiscalia de Aysén, Sernapesca and the PDI to conduct a criminal investigation against whoever may be found responsible for the death of the 337 whales.

Now, the authorities mounted an expedition to survey the whales, taking place this week. In fact, two days ago we made radio contact with their ship as they swiftly passed through the region.

We are grateful to report that yesterday we were notified by satellite email that Sernapesca and Fiscalia de Aysén agreed to grant us permits to sample and perform necropsies on the carcasses, with the agreement that we will share all data only with Sernapesca and cannot make public any data collected or analyzed directly from the whales until the criminal investigation is closed. And so, our specialists have finally been given permission to sample. This is a great step forward towards a well-informed impression of this unique and tragic event.

Next week we will continue NE to Seno Newman, where there are more than 90 whales reported from aerial photographs. We will continue to keep a sharp lookout for new whales and take utmost advantage of the limited time we have left in Golfo de Penas.

–Katie McConnell

*Counts taken from skulls, 1 count was from a jawbone.

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