Gulls Versus Whales off the Coast of Argentina

by Alexis Cherry, age 15

Have you ever tried to feed the ducks in one of Dane County’s many lakefront parks? While this can be a fun activity, it can also be cut short by swarms of aggressive gulls. These large, loud white birds can sweep down in large numbers and make both ducks and people very uncomfortable.

Well for some whales off the coast of South America, this story goes from bad to worse.

A decade ago, environmentalists and authorities thought that seagulls attacking Argentinean whales off the coast of Puerto Madryn City was just a bizarre habit. Now there is consensus that this behavior has reached hazardous levels.

Seagulls in Puerto Madryn have a strange but dangerous tendency to swoop down on whales that have come up for air and peck at them, puncturing the skin. When the whales resurface, the gulls attack these open sores and eat the whales’ flesh. Because gull populations have increased, this behavior is now particularly detrimental to the infant whales.

If this trend continues, there is great concern among environments that these Argentinean whales will begin to die off. For some species, like the southern right whale, this relatively new gull behavior is a significant hazard. They could soon be listed as endangered, and might eventually go extinct.

Marcelo Bertellotti, who works for the National Patagonia Center, a government sponsored conservation agency, said that the government should control gulls by shooting them. His solution, called the “100-Day Whale-gull Action Plan,” was approved by the local Chubut government.

Some environmentalists, however, strongly disagree with this plan. They believe there are less violent actions that can be taken. Some experts say humans are responsible for the escalation of the problem, because open-air garbage dumps and seafood scraps from factories, have caused an explosion in the seagull population. Environmentalists suggest closing off the garbage dumps and properly disposing of seafood factory waste. They say this will help control the seagull population.

[Sources: Associated Press; The New York Times]