Off the coast of Argentina in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, gulls have taken up a nasty habit of attacking whales. In one of the prime breeding grounds for Southern right whales, a booming population of gulls has figured out how to get a seafood meal every time a whale surfaces by stripping the flesh off the backs of the whales.
The gull population has increased rapidly in recent years due to open air garbage dumps, a local seafood packing plant dumping fish parts in the water, and fisheries doing the same. Gulls are clever animals and they have figured out how to increase their feeding opportunities.
When right whales surface for air, they breach dramatically and splash their tails about a bit. The breaching makes right whales particularly popular for the local tourism industry. It also lets the gulls know where a whale is. The gull swoops in a strips a chunk of flesh off the whale. With many gulls attacking at once, a whale can quickly end up with a bloody back, weakening the whale and making it more susceptible to disease.
Because the whales are important to the tourism industry, solutions are being proposed to reduce the number of gulls. Closing the open air dumps and reducing one major source of food is a first step.
Another suggestion has been to shoot the gulls as they attack the whales. Bird carcasses would need to be removed from the water before lead shot entered the food chain.
The whales aren’t being entirely passive about this. They’ve taken to surfacing quietly, so that the gulls can’t find them. Unfortunately for the local economy, the tourists can’t find the whales, either.
Southern right whale breaching photo via Shutterstock