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Humpback whales: Running out of time?

A whale appeared dead on the shore of La Bocana, not far from the urban area of Buenaventura, Colombia, on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean. The unknown causes of death raise speculations on climate changes consequences.

The biologist of the Corporación Autónoma Regional del Valle (CVC) Edward Sevilla explained that, “a cetacean known as baleen whale or humpback whale, male, 9 meters in size and gray," reached the coast of La Bocana without life. Sevilla added that after the initial inspections the animal's body did not show "blows or bites of another animal" and it is presumed that "it died a week or two ago and was dragged by the tide to La Bocana."

Adult humpback whales are usually the first to arrive to Buenaventura on their migratory route through the Pacific from the Antarctica region between the months of May and June. The premature arrival of the cetacean alarmed the environmental authorities and the tourists who were getting ready to observe the natural phenomenon of the animal’s mating and breeding cycle.

The biggest concern of the environmental authorities is that the death of this whale is a consequence of human behavior, such as artisanal and maritime industrial activities, such as fishing. The concerns arise even more so because just three years ago another whale washed up a shore. After thorough investigation, the verdict dictated that the animal had died as a result of being trapped in a fishing net.

Let’s remember the importance of the whales for the environmental sustainability of the marine ecosystems and, consequently, of our planet. Scientists and managers of the fishing industry have underestimated for decades the important role whales play in the balance of marine ecosystems. Now, a study lead by the same research group says that increasing populations of large whales (blue whales, humpback whales, free whales and gray whales) improve the balance of our oceans.

According to its director, Joe Roman, "when the studies began, the largest whales were practically absent because we had killed them off" (in the 1970s it was estimated that approximately 66% of these animals had disappeared).

Scientists say that when whales feed at great depths and then return to the surface to breathe, they alter the water column allowing nutrients and microorganisms to expand. In addition, iron and nitrogen from their urine serve as fertilizers for plankton. For all the reasons previously stated, it is understandable why multiple environmental investigations are being developed in the hopes to prevent any environmental disasters caused by human actions.

LatinAmerican Post | Manuela Pulido