Science & Technology

Humpback whale deaths break Brazil record, more than 130 so far this year

By Maria Angelica Troncoso

Rio de Janeiro, Aug 18 (EFE).- A huge humpback whale was found dead on Wednesday on the beach of a luxurious residential Rio de Janeiro neighborhood, a situation that has occurred more than 100 times so far this year on various Brazilian beaches, setting a new countrywide record for such whale deaths.

Residents who came out to walk on the Sao Conrado beach in southern Rio on Wednesday morning came across the 7-meter-long (23 feet) body of the whale stuck in the sand above the shoreline and already surrounded by curious onlookers of all ages who lamented the animal’s death.

So far this year, 131 humpback whales have been found stranded along the beaches of the South American giant, a sad new record after 122 of the seagoing mammals died along the Brazilian coastline four years ago, according to the Proyecto Ballena Yubarte non-governmental organization, which has been working in the country since 1988 to monitor the whales.

A large number of those animals die at sea and are washed up onto the beaches, but others become stranded on the beaches while alive, where sometimes with human help they can be saved, although generally they die.

According to the NGO, the largest number of the deaths, i.e. 42, occurred in the southern state of Santa Catarina, where on Wednesday another one of the cetaceans was found, and in Sao Paulo (36). In Rio de Janeiro, 14 whales have died so far in 2021.

“There is an increase in the number of cases and this trend is happening because it’s a population that’s growing. There are whales that die from natural causes, but also from human activities, like being run over by a ship, that wind up trapped in a fishing net or that consume undigestible trash in the seas,” Milton Marcondes, the coordinator of the Proyecto’s research, told EFE.

Nevertheless, studies made of the whale deaths this year indicate that one of the causes is the possible scarcity of krill – a small crustacean, similar to a shrimp – which the humpback whales habitually eat in the Antarctic before starting their annual migration toward warmer waters to reproduce.

Just like this year, whale mortality adhered to the same pattern in 2010, 2017 and 2018, years in which researchers also registered reductions in krill.

This also explains why a good portion of the dead whales that are turning up on Brazilian beaches have been very thin and also young – between one and four years old and not yet of reproductive age, like the one found Wednesday in Rio.

Another factor that is new, however, is that whale mortality in Brazil has been registered in areas apart from Bahia in the north and Espiritu Santo in the southeast, where the phenomenon of whale deaths usually occurs.

In those cases of whale deaths caused by human activities, the Proyecto, along with environmental authorities, is working to lower the mortality rate by increasing controls, especially on illegal fishing.

“We’re trying to reduce the mortality by human activities, but climate changes, which lead to a lack of food, are more complex. For that, we have no solution, at least in the short term,” he said.

This species of whale – also known as Yubarta whales – each year begins making a sea journey from the southern part of South America northward along the Brazilian coast to reproduce and care for their young.

The first whales begin arriving in May and their presence gradually increases until the peak is reached in July and August, after which they begin migrating southward again in November.


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