[MARMAM] Unprecedented dolphin UME in Peru

William Rossiter rossiter at csiwhalesalive.org
Thu Apr 5 19:30:48 PDT 2012

This 4 April report concerning the ongoing mass stranding of hundreds of long beaked common dolphins and Burmeister’s porpoises is being forwarded on behalf of Dr. Carlos Yaipen-LLanos, President - Science Director, ORCA Peru . He is working with Hardy Jones, who has posted a video and blogs athttp://bluevoice.org/webfilms_catastropheperu.php.

Dr. Yaipen-LLanos reports

  ...Situation is worse than imaginable. The whole situation is a UME effectively, and
needs to be address in detail. You probably read Hardy’s blog, so here
some more field information:

1. On March 25th, we received a communication from an ORCA sentinel
volunteer located on site indicating the presence of hundreds of stranded
dolphins. ORCA and Bluevoice decided to execute this survey of 135 Km from
San Jose in Lambayeque state to the southern border of Illescas National
Park, in Piura state, to collect visual and sample evidence. Our survey
was in coordination with the Police of the Environment Protection
(Ecological Police).

2. As previously reported, two species have been affected: Long beaked
common dolphin (Delphinus capensis) and Burmeister’s porpoise (Phocoena
spinipinnis). We counted 615 common dolphins. All age classes were
affected: Adult males, females, lactating females, juveniles, calves and
newborns. We counted 19 porpoises, only females and calves.

3. There are carcasses in different degrees of decomposition and every 10
to 30 meters, none of them older than 5 weeks. This matches with the fact
that these strandings happened right after our previous survey. We found
animals recently dead (no more than 12 hours) and several carcasses of
juveniles and calves showed “rigor mortis” as being dead on land, then
stranded alive (stiff arc position, beak open, belly down, transversal to
tide line, no more than 3 days dead).

4. Necropsies were performed on site. Macroscopic findings include:
hemorrhagic lesions in the middle including the acoustic chamber,
fractures in the periotic bones, bubbles in blood filling liver and
kidneys (animals were diving, so the main organs were congested), lesions
in the lungs compatible with pulmonary emphysema, sponge-like liver. So
far we have 12 periotic samples from different animals, all with different
degree of fractures and 80% of them with fracture in the right periotic
bones, compatible with acoustic impact and decompression syndrome.

5. Histopathology analysis in under process at this point from 30 tissues
collected. We hope to have results by Monday. We will assess septic
evidence, viral inclusion bodies, and microscopic confirmation of
decompression syndrome. These samples will be compared with samples
collected from previous surveys in the area. After these results are
acquired, we will continue testing collected tissues.

6.  At this point, the evidence points towards acoustic impact and
decompression syndrome. However, the large aggregation of dolphins is
leading towards a potential epidemic outbreak of morbillivirus, brucella
or both. We have recorded morbillivirus in South American sea-lions and
the Peruvian population of common dolphins is a migratory part of that at
Costa Rica, so chances are high. Also, evidence of previous mass stranding
of this magnitude was associated to morbillivirus outbreak in Europe
during the 90’s also in common dolphins and porpoises.

7. That lead us to believe the event started close to shore are:
a) Carcasses found fresh or with little decomposition, and those in
moderate decomposition retain skin. Normally is lost when carcasses drift
off shore for some time, so the animals died not too far from shore.
b) Lactating females, calves and newborns were found. This indicated
breeding season and matches with the fact that many cetacean species use
coastal waters to protect the off-spring from predators and provide more
secure shallows.
c) Dolphins search for high-productivity areas to feed large pods and this
is more important during breeding season. The coastal northern Peru has
been a hot spot for fishermen this season.

8. Fishermen leader in San Jose requested my advice towards the issue of
the acoustic impact upon fisheries a year ago, when an oil company invited
him on board a vessel for him to witness that seismic surveys with
compressed air do not produce effects upon marine life. Of course, little
he knew that the effects are not visible immediately, and that species are
affected depending on the intensity of the high frequency used.  It is for
the Attorney for Environmental Affairs of Piura to determine the source of
the acoustic impact.

9. We are aware that dolphins continue stranding. For that reason, we are
to return to the stranding site for another survey with the Ecological
Police and to run test on site and to collect more samples for lab
analysis. We know that the Institution for the Sea of Peru has collected
samples for analysis, but we don’t know the sort of samples nor the
results so far.

10. Also, we had testimonial on the San Jose beaches that stranded
dolphins were “harvested” for human consumption, burying the carcasses. We
did find one of them not too far from the fishermen boats. We also
interviewed the Manager for the Medical Post, and confirmed to us that the
rate of diabetes in humans, mainly fishermen, have tripled over the past 6
years. We are in coordination with her to develop an education campaign on
information and research on the potential relationship of diabetes and
dolphin meat consumption.

11. Under the current circumstances and after a long assessment of our
Stranding Network, all the dolphins and porpoises stranded respond to one
sole UME that started in middle January, and continues today. With all
available count in an area of 350 Km of coastline with reported strandings
from northern Piura to northern Lambayeque, we estimate around 3,000 dead
dolphins so far.

This is the largest mass stranding ever recorded in the coast of Peru and
with no precedent in the South American region. Situation has is
overwhealming. Even children have been involved in collecting dolphin meat
at the southern end of the stranding site (Lambayeque), and have been
trying to rescue agonic dolphins at the northern range (Piura).  We need
financial support to be available for trip, sampling, testing, equipment
and educational campaign.

additional images:


Dr. Carlos Yaipen-LLanos
President - Science Director

Organization for Research and Conservation of Aquatic Animals

Tel. (511) 99938-9430
E-mail:orcarlos at orca.org.pe  /orca.peru at gmail.com
Web site:www.orca.org.pe
Facebook: Orca Peru

"Rescue, Education, Science and Conservation Saving Marine Life in the
South Pacific"

ORCA is a non-profit organization based in Lima, Peru, dedicated to do
research, rescue and rehabilitation of sea-lions, dolphins, whales and
marine otters to be release in the wild, promoting long term education
programs and the development of strategies for the conservation of the

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