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Whales don't eat gulls, so why?

By JW Dowey - 02 Jul 2013 15:48:1 GMT
Whales don't eat gulls, so why?

Here in South Africa, the mother and calf of Eubalena are safe. Across the ocean in Patagonia, they are endangered by of all things, a bird! Whales image; Credit: © Shutterstock

For years, the kelp gull, Larus dominicanus populations of the South Atlantic have been gorging themselves on whale blubber. The reason may be connected with the large populations and/or the dumping of fish wastes in South American harbours. Certainly, the same sub-species does not feed from whales in South Africa, New Zealand or Australia.

They land on the whale's backs and peck Perhaps they are attracted by the rich whale milk, which is shed by mothers to feed their calves. With no lips, whale calves just have to gulp, so it's as messy as human babies who are just onto solids. Here in Patagonia is where the southern right whales, Eubalaena australis, come to breed and nurse.

One landfill in Puerto Madryn, Argentina causes such a stench of rotting fish that 8000 gulls can gather, just offshore of the landfill site. The waste is disgracefully left unburied. The effect on the gull population then seems to carry over to trouble whales. As the population explodes, they must find alternative food supplies, and the nursing mothers are the prime target, with 50 tonnes of meat!

Nowadays, after shooting many gulls and counting dead whales, researchers are getting close to discovering the intricate connections between the two species.

When the mothers dive to escape birds, the calves are forced to stop feeding. If this happens often, under feeding could easily result. In 2012, 98% of the dead whales on Argentinian shores were calves. Those 113 individuals were double the dead calves in 2011. Needing 100 litres of fatty whale milk per day, they are certainly dying in increasing numbers and the birds have the weapon that seems to cause their deaths in their beaks.

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Topics: Whales / Birds