Posted on: March 7, 2012

PWF Assists with Study of Blue Whales in Chile

Pacific Whale Foundation is expanding its list of research programs to include blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), the world's largest whales. 

The blue whales will be studied off the coast of Chile, in the Northern Patagonia region, as part of a project conducted by Proyeto Alfaguara (Project Alfaguara). Pacific Whale Foundation will provide support for the project, which is now in its seventh year. 
 
Led by principal investigators Barbara Galleti, Priscila Escobar and María Paz Muñoz, the research project will include gathering photo identification data of individual blue whales. These animals are identified by examining the pigmentation and mottling patterns on their flanks. To date, Proyeto Alfaguara has photoidentified 363 individual blue whales.They have resighted 31% of these whales between the years of 2009 and 2011. 
 
"Pacific Whale Foundation is pleased to fund the entire 2012 field season of this important study of this small and isolated population of blue whales," remarked Greg Kaufman, President and Founder of Pacific Whale Foundation. "It's yet another way that the money raised by our ocean ecotours, sales in our Ocean Stores and donations from our members and supporters is being directed to help support whales and other marine life throughout the Pacific." 
 
"There was a massive slaughter of blue whales by whaling ships in the southern hemisphere in the Pacific between 1926 and 1967, resulting in the loss of approximately 97% of the blue whale population," notes Kaufman. "The study that we are funding takes place in an important feeding area for bluewhales of the region, located near Isla Grande de Chiloe, the second largest island in Chile." 
 
"Today, we are seeing new threats to these gigantic animals, including coastal development, increased shipping through the region and a Norwegian salmon farming operation in this area that is polluting the ocean with antibiotics and noise from their generators. Rising ocean temperatures may be altering the availability of prey for these whales; in fact, fisherman are catching tropical fish never before seen in this area," said Kaufman.
 
"The data from Proyeto Alfaguara will help us understand issues impacting these blue whales, including acoustic issues, and can provide bona-fide science-based rationale for establishing protections for these blue whales," he noted. "We've seen that the Proyeto Alfaguara team has proven to be extremely effective in encouraging government and local action to protect these animals." 
 
In 2008, the Proyeto Alfaguara team successfully convinced the government of Chile to establish a sanctuary for whales, after a poll showed that 98% of Chile's citizens wanted the sanctuary. They've also made Chile's Navy aware of the presence of the blue whales in the navy's shipping lanes. 
 
The team will be keeping a careful eye on the skin lesions seen on a good number of whales and will be watching for the "tattoo virus" -- a lethal virus found on blue whales. 
 
The Proyeto Alfaguara research team launches its boat from the Isla Grande de Chiloe (the Big Island of Chile), a beautiful forested island. Six to nine foot swells often stand between the researchers' launch site and the seas where the bluewhales are found.  During this coming season, local operators will be introducing whalewatching operations in this area, the first off Isla Grande de Chiloe. Pacific Whale Foundation and Proyeto Alfaguara will be working with these new whalewatch operators, to help them develop educational programs that promote conservation and responsible wildlife watching. 
 
Pacific Whale Foundation also studies humpback whales in Hawaii, Australia, Ecuador, Peru and Tonga, as well as wild dolphins and odontocetes off the coasts of Maui, Lana'i and Ecuador. These bona fide research studies are funded by profits from Pacific Whale Foundation's whalewatches and ocean ecotours operating out of Maui's Ma'alaea and Lahaina Harbors. To learn more, visit www.pacificwhale.org. 
 
Established in 2004, the Alfaguara Project was named after the term used by former whalers to identify the blue whale. The project aims to promote non-lethal use of cetaceans species in Chilean waters.  
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