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Floating garbage

Massive quantity of floating garbage causes flesh-eating seagulls to devour whales

Thursday, September 06, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: floating garbage, seagulls, whales


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(NaturalNews) If you've ever been to the beach and have broken out your cooler and picnic basket, chances are good that in doing so, you and your family attracted the attention - and short-term affection - of a small flock of seagulls.

Now, while seagulls can get to be pesky, especially if you start feeding them, they aren't known to turn their voracious appetites on bigger prey, but that has changed in recent years as the large grey and white birds have begun to feed on, and eventually devour, whales.

In fact, the problem has gotten so bad off the coast of Argentina that authorities are considering allowing police to shoot the birds to prevent them from feeding off southern right whales before the gentle giants just stop coming.

Environmentalists hate the plan and have blamed the problem on humans for creating so much garbage, which is dumped nearby, that the gull population has exploded.

Both sides have agreed that seagull attacks in one of the whales' premier birthing grounds is a dual threat - to the whales, obviously, but also to the local tourism industry, by transforming the serene and wonderful experience of whale-watching into a gruesome gull feeding frenzy.

Seagull attacks harming whales, killing the whale experience

The gulls around the Argentine city of Puerto Madryn discovered about 10 years ago that pecking at the backs of whales as they come up for a breath of air provides them with a regular diet of fresh seafood. Each time the whale surfaces, the gulls feast again by cutting the whale's skin and blubber with claws and beaks.

As more gull caught on to the technique, the problem grew worse. Not only that but the seagull population has risen dramatically in the area because of ready access to nearby open-air garbage heaps and piles of fish parts dumped into the water by local fisherman and a seafood packaging plant.

"It's not just that the gulls are attacking the whales, but that they're feeding from them, and this way of feeding is a habit that is growing and becoming more frequent," Marcelo Bertellotti, an employee for the National Patagonia Center, a government-sponsored conservation agency, told the Associated Press. "It really worries us because the damage they're doing to the whales is multiplying, especially to infant whales that are born in these waters."

As expected, Mother Nature is correcting the problem herself: Whales have adjusted their behavior by just barely breaching the water enough to breathe through their blow-holes, rather than burst out of the water in dramatic fashion and displaying their tails, said Bertellotii.

His answer is short and sweet - shoot the gulls that feed on the whales with air or hunting guns, then recover each bird shot down before they, and the ammunition in them, are eaten which would further harm marine life.

He has developed a "100-day Whale-Gull Action Plan" that has been approved by the government of Chubut, whose officials have spoken out publicly in its defense.

Shoot to kill

"We are preparing a pilot plan that seeks to stop the damage from the gulls that pick at the flesh of the whales, because this is putting at risk the resource," said Gov. Martin Buzzi on his Facebook page. "It will be a minimal intervention to protect the life of the southern right whale and thus provide a response to the complaints of the sightseeing businesses that operate in the place."

As much as anything, his approval of the plan is an economic decision, since whale-watching is a huge revenue generator for Chubut, a province located near the southern tip of Argentina - and South America proper. Since becoming a globally protected species, southern right whale have recovered to about eight percent of their original population. Hundreds of them come to the mostly calm and warm waters of the gulf formed by the Valdez Peninsula to give birth to offspring and then raise them between July and December of each year, AP reported.

Watching them surface can often be magical, say those who have seen them. But the gull attacks are blunting the spectacle.

Environmentalists say the best solution is to deny the birds the open-air garbage dumps. Churbut environmental officials say they intend to begin doing just that later this year but in the meantime, the problem with the gulls still has to be dealt with.

Sources:

http://www.washingtonpost.com

http://news.discovery.com

http://news.discovery.com

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