Blue whale numbers on the rise in Chile
A new study observed a northward advancement of up to 373 miles as Chile looks to establish a sustainable eco-tourism industry.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Chilean university and NGO team up to study the gentle giants of the sea. (Image courtesy of the Chilean Antarctic Institute/Jennifer Muñoz)
They are the largest animals ever to have existed on earth, but decades of indiscriminate hunting nearly led to their extinction. Now, it seems that the mighty blue whale is making a comeback.
In Chile, blue whale sightings are on the rise, and the majestic giant of the ocean is steadily extending its feeding grounds northward.
This was confirmed by a study conducted by the Universidad Austral and the Blue Whale Center (CBA by its Spanish acronym) during the last summer. The team is looking toward creating a whale-spotting industry in the southern part of the Chile’s central region.
Scouring the waters off the coastal city of Valdivia, located around 850 kilometers to the south of the capital of Santiago, the study documented around 115 groups or 200 blue whale specimens.
In a conversation with the Spanish news agency EFE, CBA coordinator Rodrigo Hucke celebrated the high number of sightings, saying that it represented a northern advancement of up to 373 miles (600 km) in comparison to previous studies.
The zone which the whales visited was marked at its northernmost point by the Chiloé archipelago.
“We have come to see groups of up to 11 whales,” Hucke told Chilean daily, El Mercurio. “It is impressive, and from the coast it should be even more so. By all means, we are pleasantly surprised. Animals have been seen a mile from the coast.”
The biologist said that it would require a further two to three years of observation to confirm the findings, at which point the region could begin focusing on developing a sustainable tourism industry.
According to press reports the aim of the project is to establish the localities of Chaihuín and Curiñanco as administrative centers of the whale spotting industry. Locals would be trains to lead whale-sighting expeditions, and learn to navigate around the migratory whales without putting them at risk.
Historically, Chilean waters have been an important pitstop for the blue whales. After spending time in warmer waters near the Equator, the ocean-going mammals come south to feed in the nutrient rich waters fed by the cold Humboldt current.
The blue whale has been protected by Chilean law since 2008.