About eight years ago, the burgeoning gull population around the city of Puerto Madryn learned that they can get fresh meat from the whales. As more gulls learned the trick, the problems for whales increased. The gulls wait until a whale surfaces for air, then tear holes in the whales' flesh and rip off pieces of skin and blubber. Each time the whales come back up, the gulls go in for more.
"It really worries us because the damage they're doing to the whales is multiplying, especially to infant whales that are born in these waters," Marcelo Bertellotti, of the National Patagonia Center, a government-sponsored conservation agency, told the AP.
The whales have had to change their behavior, according to Bertellolli. The whales no longer leap from the water or display their massive tails. Instead they break the surface just long enough to gulp in some air and then retreat to the safety of the depths.
Bertellotti advocates gunning down the gulls to protect the whales. By culling out the birds that have learned the whale bushwhack technique, he hopes to erase the habit from the population.
Don't cry for gulls, Argentina, say some in response to this plan. The gulls are only a symptom of the open air garbage pit problem, they say. Reducing, reusing and recycling along with covering up the trash heaps would stop the gull population from booming. Less gulls would mean less threat to the whales.
"At year's end, we're going to inaugurate garbage-separation plants," regional environmental minister, Eduardo Maza said in the AP. "All the garbage in the protected Peninsula Valdes area that isn't recyclable will be properly disposed of, which will enable us to mitigate the open-air garbage dumps."
Southern right whale off theValdez Peninsula, Patagonia, Argentina (Michaël Catanzariti, Wikimedia Commons)