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A Killer Algae: The Death of 343 Sei Whales in Patagonia Reveals Effect of Climate Change on Marine Mammals

Source: Hakai Magazine/Claudia Geib - November 22, 2017 in Environment, Featured

A Killer Algae: The Death of 343 Sei Whales in Patagonia Reveals Effect of Climate Change on Marine Mammals
Photo: Luis Alejandro Bernal Romero/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

They didn’t think much of the first dead whale. Dwarfed by the rugged cliffs of Patagonia’s high green fjords, the team of biologists had sailed into a gulf off the Pacific Ocean searching for the ocean’s smaller animals, the marine invertebrates they were there to inventory. That night, while hunting for an anchorage in a narrow bay, the team spotted a large, dead whale floating on the water’s surface. But for the biologists, death—even of such an enormous animal—didn’t seem so unusual.

Not so unusual, that is, until they found the second whale, lying on the beach. And a third. And a fourth. In all, they found seven in that bay alone. Over the next day, they counted a total of 25 dead whales in the fjord.

As the team of five researchers from Chile’s Huinay Scientific Field Station sailed south across the Golfo de Penas, the dead were there, too: 200 kilometers away, they found four more whales on the beaches of the exposed, outer coast. At one point, someone’s dog rolled in one of the corpses. The scent of dead whale hung in the boat for weeks.

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