Unusual Mass Dolphin Stranding in Peru

Peru’s northwest shoreline above Chiclayo is beautifully desolate—sandy dunes running into the surf for over a hundred miles. In January, locals reported dead dolphins washing up on the beaches, but little notice was generated. In February and March, more animals were found by the hundreds, and as many as a thousand in one report. This prompted Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos of Lima-based La Organización Científica para Conservación de Animales Acuáticos (ORCA) to investigate and ultimately to contact long-time AWI friend, Hardy Jones, of BlueVoice for help.

Jones flew to Lima, and with Dr. Yaipen and his colleagues, set out for Chiclayo. The team drove 84 miles up the coast and identified 615 dead animals in one day alone. As many as 2,000 animals are estimated to have died. Most were long-beaked common dolphins according to Jones, but Dr. Yaipen also identified Burmeister’s porpoises. The stages of decomposition in the stranded cetaceans varied, consistent with multiple strandings over a long time period. Dr. Yaipen conducted on-scene necropsies on some of the animals, sampling internal organs to later test for disease and other causes. Both Dr. Yaipen and Jones suspect noise—from active sonar or seismic activity—as a likely cause of the unusual strandings. Initial reports on the animals show that they did not bear marks of external damage caused by fishing gear, or signs of poisoning. Sadly given the remoteness, state of decomposition, and logistical difficulties, the true culprit—and total number of animals involved—may never be known.

Closer to home, the US Atlantic Coast, which already suffers from heavy shipping and military traffic, is due to get noisier, as early as next year. In March, US Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a plan to allow companies to conduct seismic surveys for oil and gas on the outer continental shelf, from Delaware to the middle of Florida. Public hearings were held in April and AWI submitted comments against the proposal.