Peru: oil industry blamed in mass dolphin die-off

An estimated 3,000 dead dolphins have washed up on the coast of northern Peru so far this year—an average of 30 per day, and the mysterious die-off shows no sign of slowing. The mass wash-ups were first reported by the Association of Artisanal Fishers in Puerto Eten, Lambayeque. In the past days, over 480 carcasses have washed up in the Chaparrí Ecological Reserve. Carlos Yaipen of the Organization for Conservation of Aquatic Animals (ORCA) says he believes use of "marine bubble" technology in offshore oil exploration is responsible. "The oil companies use different frequencies of acoustic waves and the effects produced by these bubbles are not plainly visible, but they generate effects later in the animals," he told Peru21 newspaper. "That can cause death by acoustic impact, not only in dolphins, but also in marine seals and whales."

In 2003, scientists from the Zoological Society of London determined that underwater sonar can lead to the formation of microscopic nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstreams and vital organs of aquatic mammals, afflicting the animals with a lethal condition commonly known as "the bends." Additionally, low-range acoustic sensors are suspected to cause disorientation and internal bleeding to exposed aquatic wildlife.

Peruvian authorities have yet to identify the company whose activities may be leading to this grim toll on marine life. At least one entity, Houston-based oil company BPZ Energy, has been actively surveying the seabed along the coast of northern Peru since the beginning of the year. (Peace, Earth & Justice News, April 8; MSNBC, April 4; Peru21, April 1; CBC, Oct. 9, 2003)

Similar technology used by the US Navy has also been implicated in mass cetacean deaths.

See our last posts on Peru and the death of the oceans.

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