When seagulls attack whales, birds win in Argentina


SEAGULLS. This undated handout picture released by the CENPAT-CONICET institute shows a seagull pecking the back of a whale in Peninsula Valdez, Patagonia, southern Argentina. The overpopulation of seagulls in the area due to the increase in human and industrial refuse generated a serious problem for the whales, as the birds make holes in the skin of the cetacean to eat their fat, causing infections and interfering with the lactation process. Photo by AFP/CENPAT-CONICET/ANA FAZIO

It’s a weird, lopsided fight if ever there was one: seagulls divebombing to attack and feed on the fat of 50-ton whales and their babies. And the birds are winning. The battle, new in recent years, is playing out in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina’s Patagonia region, and is not known to be happening in waters elsewhere in the world that are home to the mighty mammals. The effect of all the relentless nibbling is a pernicious disruption of an eco-system. One theory as to why it is happening is there is an overpopulation of seagulls — in this case, the kelp gull. In recent years the gulls have been wreaking havoc. They used to feed on refuse tossed overboard by fishing boats. Now, they have added whales to their menu in frenzied waves of pecking.

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