Chilean dolphins threatened by pollution, industry, and bird flu

Chilean dolphins threatened by pollution, industry, and bird flu
A Chilean Dolphin seen in Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic Region, in Punta Arenas, Chile, September 22, 2022, credit: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

The Chilean dolphin is facing increasing threats from pollution, industrial activities, and the recent emergence of bird flu in the cold Pacific waters off Chile’s western coastlines.

Known as one of the world’s smallest dolphins, this vulnerable species inhabits the southern and central coasts of Chile, where human activities such as sea farming and seaweed extraction take place.

Chile’s extensive coastline has made it one of the world’s top exporters of fish and aquatic crops. However, the shared spaces between Chilean dolphins and humans have contributed to the species’ decline.

“It is the only cetacean species in Chile that does not live anywhere else in the world and is not very spread out in Chile. It only lives in particular places that humans also use,” veterinarian Cayetano Espinosa said.

“So, we share spaces between humans and the Chilean dolphin. And knowing this, more so, we have to protect and care for this species which is unique but also very fragile because there are very few left,” he added.

Jose Luis Brito, curator of the San Antonio Natural History Museum, has reported a growing number of stranded dolphins on beaches, often entangled in nets or killed by pollution from ingesting plastic and other waste.

He warned, “the Chilean dolphin is disappearing at an alarming rate. Every day we see fewer of them on the coast.”

Bird flu, recently detected in Chile’s wild birds, marine animals, and industrial complexes, poses another significant threat to the dolphins.

Soledad Tapia, the director of the country’s fisheries service, said that the virus had infected two dolphin species: “We also have today two species of dolphins that have unfortunately become ill with this virus and that are also suffering a little of what is happening with sea lions and other marine fauna in our country.”

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