Hola! Intern Kevin from Canada here! I wanted to discuss my first field day at ORCA, a mission to Playa Arica for a beach survey with the team south of Lima city.
Upon arrival at the beach the first thing we noticed were the number of fishing nets set out, there were at least 16 nets out in a 300m stretch of beach. This seemed like a lot, and sure enough we found three dead Humboldt penguins in that same stretch of beach. A necropsy on one of the penguins revealed the cause of death to be drowning. These little guys had gotten caught in the fishing nets and couldn’t return to the surface for air. Thirty-one dead cormorants also littered the beach, their necks broken from diving into the nets. Shockingly, we saw a young couple spending an afternoon at the beach drawing hearts in the sand amid the carnage, only a few meters away from a penguin carcass, completely oblivious or apathetic to the destruction around them.
A little further down the beach we found a deceased male sub-adult sea lion. Due to the level of decomposition we determined it had been on the beach for about a week. Advanced decomposition around the head revealed the likely cause of death to be poisoning. We learned that sadly this was a pretty typical find since sea lions are frequently poisoned by fishermen since they are viewed as competition. Fishermen 35, sea life 0.
As the day went on we were excited to discover evidence of orca activity in the area, unfortunately this evidence was a dead dolphin and another sea lion. The dolphin, a female dusky dolphin, had a huge, fatal bite on its throat and lower jaw, which would have killed it immediately. Conical tooth marks in the surrounding area were key to identifying the killer as orca and not shark.
The fact that the dolphin was killed and not eaten supports this conclusion, since female orcas often kill sea lions and dolphins to teach young orcas to hunt. A few hundred meters down the beach we found another sea lion, with circular wounds on its back and underside. After inspection we found that the pattern of the wounds matched that of an orca. Again the animal had not been consumed, supporting the orca conclusion.
Overall it was an eye opening first field day in which I got to see some of the conservation issues facing the Peruvian coastline. Despite the sad start to the day, it was good to get out and see firsthand what we are fighting so hard against here at ORCA.
Written by Kevin Scharfferberg, ORCA Intern from Canada, November 2015.