Subtropical cyclone implicated in unusually high penguin deaths in Uruguay

Recent subtropical cyclone implicated in unusually high penguin deaths in Uruguay

Around 2 000 Magellanic penguins have been found dead along the eastern coast of Uruguay over the past 12 days. The cause of the event is currently being investigated.

The penguins, predominantly juveniles, died in the Atlantic Ocean and were subsequently washed up on the Uruguayan coastline. According to Carmen Leizagoyen, head of the Environment Ministry’s department of fauna, the majority of the deceased penguins arrived on shore without fat reserves, their stomachs empty. Notably, all the samples tested thus far have returned negative results for avian influenza.

These penguins, natives to southern Argentina, typically undertake a migration northwards during the southern hemisphere’s winter, moving towards food sources and warmer waters, occasionally reaching as far as the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo. A certain degree of mortality during this period is considered normal; however, the current number of deaths has been flagged as unusually high. This event draws parallels with a similar instance in Brazil last year, the cause of which also remains undetermined.

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Hector Caymaris, director of the Laguna de Rocha protected area, reported that he found over 500 dead penguins within a stretch of 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) of the Atlantic coast.

While the environmental advocates are attributing the surge in Magellanic penguin deaths to overfishing and illegal fishing practices, Richard Tesore, a representative of the NGO SOS Marine Wildlife Rescue, said a subtropical cyclone that hit southeastern Brazil in mid-July could have contributed to the demise of the weaker marine animals.

He also mentioned that food scarcity among marine animals has been a growing concern since the 1990s and 2000s due to the overexploitation of marine resources.

In addition to the mass penguin deaths, Tesore also reported finding dead petrels, albatrosses, seagulls, sea turtles, and sea lions on the beaches of Maldonado, a region situated east of Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital.

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1 Around 2,000 penguins wash up dead on Uruguay coast – AFP – July 22, 2023

Featured image credit: Latina Noticias (stillshot)

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