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Pollution, bird flu threaten 'very fragile' Chilean dolphin population

Pollution, bird flu threaten 'very fragile' Chilean dolphin population

Saturday, April 22, 2023, 12:58 GMT+7
Pollution, bird flu threaten 'very fragile' Chilean dolphin population
An austral dolphin jumps out of the water at the shore of Tranqui island in Queilen area, Chiloe, Chile in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on April 19, 2023. Quilun Ecoturismo Marino/Handout via Reuters

SANTIAGO -- Growing pollution, industrial activities and now bird flu are threatening the Chilean dolphin, one of the world's smallest cetaceans, in the cold Pacific waters off Chile's western coastlines.

Also known as the "tonina negra," the dolphin's small population lives along the Chilean southern and central coasts, in bays also used for industrial activities such as sea farming and seaweed extraction.

Chile's long coastline helps make it one of the world's top exporters of fish and aquatic crops.

"Chilean dolphins share spaces with humans, and knowing this, we have to work even more to protect this unique species," said veterinarian Cayetano Espinosa, adding that the species is "very fragile, because there are only a few of the dolphins left."

Espinosa is a member of the Yaqu Pacha study center on marine ecosystems.

An austral dolphin jumps out of the water at the shore of Tranqui island in Queilen area, Chiloe, Chile in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on April 19, 2023. Quilun Ecoturismo Marino/Handout via Reuters
An austral dolphin jumps out of the water at the shore of Tranqui island in Queilen area, Chiloe, Chile in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on April 19, 2023. Quilun Ecoturismo Marino/Handout via Reuters

Jose Luis Brito, curator of the Natural History Museum at the country's main maritime terminal, San Antonio, said he receives constant reports of dolphins stranded on beaches, sometimes tangled in nets and other times killed by pollution after consuming plastic or other waste.

"The Chilean dolphin is disappearing at an alarming rate," he said. "Every day we see less of them on the coast."

One official also pointed to the threat of bird flu, which has been detected in Chile's wild birds, marine animals and industrial complex. A human case was also reported in March.

Soledad Tapia, the director of the country's fisheries service, said two species of dolphins had been infected by the virus. "They are also a vulnerable category," she said.

Reuters

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