Marine National Parks
An effective legal tool to protect our oceans
An effective legal tool to protect our oceans
Experts, scientists and biologists have studied our sea for more than two decades and have identified the marine areas in greatest need of conservation. Namuncurá – Burdwood Bank II will go down in history as the first Marine National Marine National Park in Argentina.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) seek a comprehensive management that takes the totality of the ecosystem into account. They are natural areas established for the protection of marine ecosystems and species, including the seabed and marine subsoil.
The hourglass dolphin is the only species of small dolphin regularly encountered south of the Antarctic Convergence. Its calls have never been recorded and there is much more that needs to be learned about this particular cold-water species. It can swim at a speed of up to 22 km/h and it is known for swimming near the prow of vessels, frequently approaching them at great speed and from large distances. It often swims very fast just below the surface of the water, creating large displacements of water (similar to those of Dall’s porpoise) when it reaches the surface to breathe. It can be found together with many other cetaceans including the fin whale and the long-finned pilot whale. It is known for feeding on small fish, including myctophids, squid and crustaceans and when it is feeding, it is frequently associated with large aggregations of seabirds and plankton.
These whales have the world’s largest brain. We’re speaking of a weight of some 9 kg, 5 times more than the human brain. Their Spanish name, “cachalote,” derives from the old French word for “tooth.” It is the largest toothed predator on earth. It can reach a length of some 18 meters and weighs up to 20 tons. It is one of the few mammals capable of ECHOLOCATION. It knows and deciphers its surroundings by means of the emission of sounds and the interpretations of the echo that is produced by the objects around it. At this time, only some 200,000 sperm whale specimens remain; the sperm whale is in danger of extinction.
The fin whale is the world’s second largest animal, after the blue whale. It can dive to depths of 230 meters and issue low-frequency sounds (infrasounds) of up to 188 decibels. These sounds are inaudible to humans, but can be detected by other fin whales as much as 850 kilometers away. They can grow to a length of 27 meters and weigh up to 120 tons. They have a slender body, capable of attaining speeds of up to 37 km/h, with short spurts of up to around 47 km/h. This species feeds of zooplankton (including krill) and schooling fish. The threats facing this species include entanglement in fishing nets, collisions with vessels (they are the whales most often collided with, worldwide), commercial hunting, aboriginal hunting and climate change, including sound and chemical contamination. The fin whale is classified as endangered.
It is generally found in small groups of less than 10 individuals, but groups of up to 100 specimens may occasionally be observed at feeding time. They are often seen swimming with Burmeister’s porpoises, Peale’s dolphins and Chilean dolphins.
Peale’s dolphin is the largest of the three species in the genus Lagenorhynchus that inhabits the waters of the Southern Hemisphere. Peale’s dolphin can be found in small groups of 2 to 20 individuals, although more numerous groupings, of up to 100 specimens, have been reported. They can be very acrobatic, but are frequently seen swimming discreetly. Peale’s dolphin only inhabits waters of southern South America, from 33 degrees S in the Pacific to 38 degrees S in the Atlantic. Peale’s dolphins were habitually caught to be used as bait to fish for the southern king crab – softshell red crab in southern Chile – and although it is supposed that the number of animals caught is lower than had been assumed, it could nevertheless be unsustainable. To this are added the incidental catch in coastal nets. The increase in oil and gas activity and the development of aquaculture, as well as the degrading of the coastal habitat also constitute threats to the species.
It is estimated that thousands of individuals have been captured (10,000 in 1985) and the population has seriously diminished in recent decades. Although they are now banned by law, it is believed that the hunts continue at a very reduced rate. The dusky dolphin is an active and fast swimmer and is one of the most acrobatic of dolphin species, performing incredible jumps and turns. When one dolphin begins to jump, the rest of the group often follows suit. They are very curious dolphins. They are very sociable and can be found in groups of hundreds of individuals. The principal threats to dusky dolphin populations are hunting and entanglement in fishing nets. The size of the worldwide population is unknown.
Very little is known about this species at this time, its confirmed sightings at sea numbering a few dozens. They are discreet, fast swimmers, avoid vessels and, as happens with other members of the genus Phocoena, it is believed that they are not very acrobatic. The few times that sightings have been documented, they have been seen in groups of between 1 and 15 individuals. The spectacled porpoise has most frequently been sighted along the southeast coast of South America, but its range of distribution may extend in a Southern Hemisphere circumpolar band. It is incidentally caught in gillnets and trawls. There is no global estimate for the species.
In Argentina, there are two main species of sea lions: the South American sea lion and the South American fur seal. The most abundant is the South American sea lion. It has a rounded snout. Males reach 300 kg and have a prominent neck in the form of a mane, hence their name. The South American fur seal is of smaller size and has a pointed snout.
Minke whales (lesser rorquals) are the smallest and most abundant of rorquals. They have a pointed snout, a straight mouth line and a long crest along their heads with two blowholes. Their mouths are lined by hundreds of baleen plates. They are relatively fast swimmers, sometimes performing jumps and pirouettes. When they surface to breathe, their snout appears first. These whales can remain underwater for approximately 20 minutes. Whale hunting, chemical contamination and entanglement in fishing nets threaten them.
The sei whale is one of the fastest whales on earth – it can reach a speed of 70 km/h, similar to the speed attained by a horse. These wise creatures of the high seas may live to the age of 70! They have a more slim and svelte body than that of the well-known southern right whale; they weigh up to 45,000 kg and may reach a length of 19.5 meters. This species feeds mainly on krill and other crustaceans, but may eat squid and fish up to 30 cm in size. The populations of this species were severely affected by the whaling industry. The species is ranked as Endangered (IUCN, 2008) and, like other large whales, is threatened by chemical and sound contamination, collisions with vessels, climate change, sonars and entanglement in fishing nets.
The southern elephant seal is the largest marine animal that climbs onto the coast after months of aquatic life. It is able to make continuous, prolonged and deep dives. The aptitude for diving improves with age, being able to reach a depth of more than 1,500 meters. As it swims it can hold its breath for 90 minutes, for which reason it spends 80% of its time under the water. These enormous apnea champions can reach a weight of 4,000 kg.
The common giant petrel is one of the sole pelagic species that nest on our continent, on the Arce and Gran Robredo islands. It spends a major portion of its life at sea and can attain a great size almost twice that of a large seagull, with almost 2 meters from wingtip to wingtip. It feeds on fish, crustaceans and, to a great extent, on carrion. Being a scavenger, it is one of the few species that can feed on land. The giant petrel is frequently caught in fishing methods (it bites fishhooks and is caught in nets), for which reason the species faces major mortality. A way is being sought to reduce this mortality, with good results, but there is still much work to do.
The wandering albatross is one of the largest flying birds currently on earth. From wingtip to wingtip it can measure up to 3.4 meters. What an average elephant can measure in height. This species can fly around the world in less than a month and can soar for days without beating its wings. It prefers to fish on the high seas, far from land; its diet centers on cephalopods, fish and garbage from ships. It is monogamous for life. In the event that one member of the pair dies, the other will not reproduce until it forms a new pair, which can take several years. Its reproduction is not very frequent so that its death endangers the species. Being a seabird and feeding at sea, it runs a great risk of being trapped in fishermen’s lines or cords – these are one of this bird’s greatest threats and causes of death.
The rockhopper penguin is the smallest of the crested penguins, with a robust and streamlined body that has an average weight of 3.35 kg and a height of some 55 cm. Its name is due to the fact that on land it normally moves about with hops. It forms large groups that can contain more than 100,000 nests. The pairs are monogamous and each pair normally returns to the same nest every year. It will spend the winter months at sea, feeding, until it has to return to the coast to breed again. It feeds mainly on krill but also eats squid, fish and crustaceans. Although it is very small, it has powerful flippers and feet that allow it to move swiftly in the water and to catch its prey with ease. It can dive up to 100 meters in search for food. The threats facing this species include commercial hunting, the stealing of eggs by fishing vessels, the introduction of exotic animals, oil contamination and climate change. The rockhopper penguin is classified as endangered.
The Argentine Sea is exposed to thousands of threats. The exact impact on the ocean is still unknown, but it is known that 8 million tons are dropped into the sea annually and that 90% of large fish have disappeared from our oceans.
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Eight million tons of plastic are swept into the sea every year. An enormous amount of effluents and solid waste of urban, industrial and fishing origin are deposited yearly in coastal areas.
The overexploitation of resources does not allow species to recover, placing them at risk of extinction. The fishing of Pollack is currently in a state of collapse.
Incidental catch refers to all those species that are fished as a consequence of the catch of another species. Argentina ranks at the top of the incidental catch of sharks and rays. Nowadays 43 species are endangered. More than 13,548 specimens of black-browed albatross die annually.
More than 60 species face the threat of extinction in our country – from fish like the broadnose sevengill shark or the bigeye thresher to charismatic species like the blue whale, rockhopper penguin and the leatherback sea turtle.
Illegal, undeclared and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) exhausts fish populations, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition, unfairly harms legal fishermen and renders coastal communities more fragile, particularly in developing countries.
One of the most harmful fishing methods is bottom trawling. With just one pass, bottom trawling nets can do away with centuries of growth of coral structures and sea sponges. Discards from fishing nets also impact on sealife.
Research allows the detailed study of biodiversity and of all the components of the sea environment. It is estimated that 40% of our species haven’t been discovered yet, and may have unique features that would allow the discovery of useful substances, such as new foodstuffs or medicines.