WASHINGTON (July 18, 2005) -- Forty conservation groups today asked President Ricardo Lagos of Chile to create a protected area for blue whales in Chile's Patagonia region. The request, delivered by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to Chile's Ambassador in Washington, Andres Bianchi, follows the spectacular discovery of a blue whale nursery near the large island of Chiloé in the Corcovado Gulf in Chile's eleventh region.
The blue whale, which can reach lengths of a hundred feet, is the largest creature on Earth (larger than the biggest dinosaurs). It was brought close to extinction in the early 20th century by commercial whaling, which was banned internationally in the 1960s. The population of blue whales has begun to recover, but scientists say the recovery is hampered by a lack of knowledge about their behavior and the lack of protection for their main habitats. There are between 800 and 2900 blue whales left in the southern hemisphere, approximately one percent of the pre-whaling population.
In 2003, a group of Chilean scientists headed by Dr. Rodrigo Hucke Gaete, a researcher at the Austral University and director of the non-profit Center for Blue Whales, documented a population of blue whales feeding and nursing near Corcovado Gulf in southern Chile. Scientific work over the following year confirmed the importance of the blue whale nursery to the species.
"We were astounded to find such a large population of blue whales making their home in Patagonia," said Hucke Gaete. "The biological richness of the area and low levels of contamination make it vital to the global efforts to protect this magnificent animal for future generations."
The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service plan for recovery of the blue whale specifically includes promoting efforts to protect areas of known importance for the species.
"Protecting this area will benefit the blue whale and Chilean marine ecosystems, and could transform the region into a world-class ecotourist destination," said NRDC attorney José Yunis.
Organizations signing the letter include Conservation Internacional (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).