Documentary review: Why blame the seagulls?

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Photo: Stephanie StefanskiPhoto: Stephanie Stefanski
The short film “Why blame the seagulls?" delves into the issue of kelp gulls that feed and attack the backs of southern right whales in Argentine Patagonia. It's a serious problem for these whales, but who is the real culprit?

By Sofia Anich
Imagine having to spend 8 hours a day running away from a group of mosquitoes that want to bite us and take pieces of our skin. We can do nothing but run, because the moment we stand still, the bugs come back to attack us en masse. It hurts us, it distresses us, it wears us down.
This terrifying scene is what the southern right whales that migrate each year during the Austral winter months to Península Valdés, located in the Argentine province of Chubut, have to live through every day to reproduce and give birth to their calves. But in this case the mosquitoes are actually kelp gulls, with sharp beaks and a never-ending hunger.
This short film released at the end of 2023 by multi-award-winning director and producer Philip Hamilton, narrated by Gastón Pauls and with original music by Armand Amar, goes in-depth into this continuing problem over several decades with beautiful filming of the whales and Patagonian coast together with interviews with diverse scientists and experts.
In 35 minutes, the Ocean Souls Films production makes clear the reason for its title. While it is impossible not to get angry with the kelp gulls after seeing images and images of their relentless hunting, the real problem is uncontrolled economic development.

Urban waste has grown with the growth of the local population, but primarily the problem is the fish and shrimp waste from nearby fish processing plants, which to this day dump their waste in open dumps, leaving fish remains on land that becomes a feast for the seagulls, and greatly facilitating their reproduction. According to the film, Puerto Madryn fish processing plants dump 60,000 tons of waste each year in the area.
Kelp gulls are causing a seemingly never-ending problem. Their constant attacks produce high levels of stress in the whales, an increase in the death of calves and an inefficient development of the calves, since their mothers have less time to nurse them (the issue has meant the resting and nursing time for the whales has declined by 30%). Some scientists believe the whales will eventually abandon the area altogether.
Should seagulls be slaughtered? Is it their fault? Has this problem already gone too far? The documentary states that the culling of seagulls a couple of years ago was largely able to control the attacks, but when this practice was stopped, the problems returned.
What’s the solution? This documentary seeks to address that question, making it clear that the answer is not easy. For sure, though, a big part of the solution would be governments and local communities taking responsibility for the problem and forcing fishery companies to clean up their open-air dumps.
Watch the complete version of “Why Blame the Seagulls?” for free on YouTube here