Protecting the last refuge of the blue whale?

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Editors Note: The following is from Issue 8 
 
Rodrigo Hucke-Gaete is the director of the Blue Whale Center, a non-profit in Valdivia, Chile, dedicated to blue whale research and conservation. Huecke-Gaete, 40, has been studying the blue whale for almost two decades. Since 2003, in partnership with diverse institutions, his Blue Whale Center has been tracking blue whales on the coasts of northern Chilean Patagonia through tagging, survey and photo identification each year.  A marine biologist with a doctorate in ecology, he is also an ecology professor at Universidad Austral de Chile. In 2008, he won the prestigious Whitley Award to support his efforts to establish a marine park for blue whales, which finally came to fruition in part last year with the creation of Tic Toc Marine Park. Patagon Journal executive editor Jimmy Langman interviewed Hucke-Gaete via Skype. Excerpts: 
 
Why are blue whales coming to northern Chilean Patagonia with their young? It is more convenient to come to Chiloe than to Antarctica, so I believe that this is a place of refuge for some whales that learned to eat here during the summer and have continued to use it over time. We don’t know yet the link with other populations of blue whales, but I believe this is going to be an important site later when things change dramatically with climate change. This area could potentially become the last refuge of blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere.
 
Why will climate change cause that to happen?
Because things are changing in Antarctica. There are reports predicting an 80% reduction of the krill population there. Today, it has already dropped considerably because of the changes that are happening and as you well know the life of the blue whale depends on krill.
 
When do you think we will start to see such a shift?
This is a projection to 10 or 20 years into the future, or more.
 
You recently co-published a paper showing that some blue whales which feed in the Gulf of Corcovado are possibly breeding in the Galapagos Islands. What could this mean for conservation?
Yes, we found a genetic and photographic match with one individual, named Isabela. But there is so much diversity among all the individuals that one monitors with the satellite equipment that we are not sure about others. Previously, it was thought that blue whales were reproducing in an unknown location in the tropics. It remains a future challenge to identify what are the most important areas for these animals, and propose conservation measures to protect those places in particular, and especially to try to find the places where they breeding, because it is there where we must absolutely introduce all measures possible to help the population recover.
 
Did the new Tic Toc Marine Park meet your expectations as a park to protect blue whales?
We had proposed a park that included this section of the Gulf of Corcovado. But we saw there was reluctance to do something big, so we saw an opportunity with the Melimoyu Foundation and WWF to at least protect Tic Toc Bay and adjacent waters in an area that we knew contained some of the feeding sites for the blue whale. At least Chile has committed to protecting one of the small feeding sites in the eco-region. These animals in one day can travel 200 kms without problems. So, when these animals don’t find food in Tic Toc, they go to the Gulf of Ancud, for example. They are always in movement looking for food.
 
Is this a paper park, or are there explicit rules on some economic activities to protect whales and other species?
They have created a Marine Coastal Protected Area of Mulitiple Use (AMCPMU), which gives us the framework to establish restrictions.  And further in the bay, in the marine park, it is set aside entirely for conservation. Fortunately, the part of Tic Toc inside the multiple use part, tourism for example can use this area but with regulations that are made together with the local people who use these waters.
 
So, its possible they will have salmon farms in the multi-use areas?
It is possible if they opt to say that it is not going to affect the overall performance of the entire area, and they establish polygons where navigation is a permitted activity, where fishing is permitted, where to have a port, etc.  It is about working together with people who are conscious of the issues at stake and coming to agreements.
 
 

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