20 Sei Whales Found Dead In Southern Chile: What Happened?


Officials have revealed that about 20 sei whales were found beached in the southern coasts of Chile. Foreign scientists discovered the whales off the Gulf of Penas, informing the National Fisheries Service of the incident.

This isn't the first time that whales have been found dead along the 2,400-mile coast of the South American country but this is the first instance that sei whales have beached in Chile. This first occurrence definitely has the attention of environmental experts but more so because the sei whale is an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The whales were already rotting when Vreni Haussermann and colleagues discovered them. None of the whales have been injured so their deaths have been tentatively associated with a virus. It is also possible that they may have succumbed to red tide, swept away by currents and taken to Chile.

In his 15 years in the area, Haussermann said he's never seen anything like it.

The Fisheries Service is still in the process of investigating the beaching and has yet to release official findings on the death of the whales.

Sei whales entered the endangered species list after they were heavily hunted as alternatives to fin and blue whales. The whale can grow up to lengths over 50 feet but those found in southern Chile were around 33 feet. As adults, sei whales can also reach weights of over 20 tons. To feed, they use their baleens to filter food, swimming through swarms of its prey. Sei whales don't rely on echolocation to track down their prey but they are capable of emitting sonic bursts with up to 10 pulses each time.

Sei whales are pelagic so they can be found in temperate oceanic waters all over the world. Each group has about two to five sei whales but it is possible for thousands to converge in an area when there is a lot of food to go around. Particularly, sei whales feed on surface plankton and tiny marine crustaceans.

While commercial hunting of sei whales have been banned since 1985, they are still threatened by the "scientific whaling" program Japan employs which results in 50 sei whales killed every year. Aside from this, they are also in danger no thanks to pollution, entanglement in fishing equipment and shipping strikes. Without these threats, it's possible for a sei whale to live up to 65 years.

Photo: Stuart Anthony | Flickr

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