The working group on protected areas for marine mammals has defined 36 relevant areas for the conservation of marine mammals, in the tropical and southeastern temperate Pacific Ocean, ranging from northern Mexico to extreme southern Chile. Inside of these areas, 14 are located in Chilean territory.
The region encompassed by the waters of the southeastern tropical and temperate Pacific Oceans is perhaps the richest in marine mammals in the world. Almost half of the world’s 132 marine mammal species live or transit here: whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, mermaids and sea otters.
For this reason, the workshop of the Working Group on Protected Areas for Marine Mammals (Task Force Marine Mammal Protected Areas), which brought together scientists specialized in the field, defined 36 new Important Areas for Marine Mammals (IMA for its acronym in English), based on scientific criteria, such as vulnerability, limited distribution and abundances or key locations for some stages of the life cycle, among others.
In the case of Chile, 14 areas were considered important areas for marine mammals. According to Carlos Olavarría, specialist in marine mammals and executive director of the CEAZA Science Center, “within the 14 areas defined for Chile, there are, for example, the Humboldt archipelago and the Gulf of Penas. In the case of the Humboldt Archipelago, unique aspects are internationally recognized, such as its high biodiversity and furthermore, representing an important feeding area for fin whales and the residence of bottlenose dolphins”.
The specialist points out that the CEAZA Scientific Center has collaborated in various surveys to learn more about the fin whale, along with other cetaceans. ‘We studied the spatial distribution of fin, blue and humpback whales transiting off Chañaral Island, along with that of krill and other prey species that feed on these same marine mammals in the Humboldt Archipelago.’
“In addition, we have recently learned more about the diving patterns of fin whales, how deep they dive, how they move underwater, how and when they vocalize, to understand their relationship to their main prey, krill. For this we attach labels to the whales, these labels adhere temporarily, last from 1 to 12 hours and that’s enough time to have enough information about the diving patterns,” explains Olavarría.
While the Gulf of Penas, another of the 14 priority sites in the Chile case, is a breeding site for southern right whales and sei whale feeding, and has also been linked to massive sei whale mortality.
“To understand more about this massive mortality, the CIEP, COPAS Coastal and CEAZA research centers have formed an expedition this year to the Isthmus of Ofqui, where we have collected basic multidisciplinary information on marine and terrestrial ecosystems with little human intervention “says the scientist.
The definition of Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMAs) was carried out in the workshop held in San José (Costa Rica) in June 2022. This initiative was co-led by researchers Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbatolo di Sciara, together with other members by the Working Group on Protected Areas for Marine Mammals.
In the case of Chile, one of the elected representatives was Olavarría, who specifies that “we have contributed to the preparation of files where the reasons for proposing these areas are justified, for example, which includes species with conservation problems or demarcated areas that correspond to critical habitats for these species.
The study and conservation of marine mammals is possible only thanks to the collaboration of organizations and the scientific community. The initiative identified by IMMA is the main activity of the Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, created in 2013 by the International Committee for Marine Mammal Protected Areas (ICMMPA), the World Commission on Protected Areas of the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN), Marine Areas (WCPA) and IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) members to help support a stronger global profile on marine mammals and protected areas.