Written by Dr. Dee Boersma
The ongoing pinniped (seals and walruses) die-off on Peninsula Valdés is catastrophic. Our contacts in Argentina–two local veterinarians (Marci Uhart and Ralph Vanstreels), and Claudia Campagna of WCS–tell us that hundreds and potentially thousands of sea lions and elephant seals have died. Avian flu (more widely known as bird flu) has devastated seabird populations throughout the world, but this is the first time it has reached Chile and Argentina. Over a million chickens were killed just in Peru to try and stop its spread. A few sea lions and one elephant seal tested positive for the virus at Punta Tombo. We know many pregnant sea lions have aborted. We do not whether the cause was a toxin from the red tide or a virus.
So far penguins have been spared, although a few have ingested the toxin and spin in circles like they are drunk. Almost all the penguins recover after a good long sleep, although a couple of have died. Females are still coming back and laying eggs. Turbo has not returned, but we continue to check around his old nests and hope for the best. Our nest survey occurs at the end of October so we will know more about the number of penguins breeding at Punta Tombo and Cabos Dos Bahias. Because of your financial support, we can follow and document even rare events like avian flu and toxic algae blooms. Thank you for being part of the science.