avian flu? Thousands of dead Magellanic penguins wash up on Uruguayan coast

A penguin is seen for dead after being washed overboard off the coast of Chile on June 2, 2023.  - Twitter / @AFP
A penguin is seen for dead after being washed overboard off the coast of Chile on June 2, 2023. – Twitter / @AFP

Nearly 2,000 dead penguins, mostly young, have mysteriously washed up on the coast of eastern Uruguay in the past ten days, wildlife officials in Uruguay said on Friday – ruling out avian influenza (bird flu) as a possible cause of death.

The Magellanic penguins, mostly juveniles, died in the Atlantic Ocean and were carried by currents to Uruguay’s shores, said Carmen Lizagoyen, head of the environment ministry’s fauna department.

He said: “It’s mortality in the water. [90%] These are young specimens without fat stores and come with empty stomachs.”

Avian influenza has not been confirmed in all the samples taken.

Magellanic penguins live in southern Argentina. When it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, they migrate north in search of food and warm water, reaching the coast of the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo.

“It’s normal for a percentage of people to die, but not in that number,” Lizagoyen said.

Hector Camaris, director of the Laguna de Rocha Protected Area, told AFP They counted more than 500 dead penguins six miles (10 kilometers) off the Atlantic coast.

Environmental advocates attribute the increase in Magellanic penguin deaths to overfishing and illegal fishing.

“From the 1990s and 2000s, we started seeing animals with a shortage of food. Resources have been over-exploited,” explained Richard Tesore of the NGO SOS Marine Wildlife Rescue. AFP,

A subtropical cyclone in the Atlantic that struck southeastern Brazil in mid-July likely caused the death of animals most vulnerable to the bad weather, he said.

In addition to the penguins, Tesor said they have recently found dead petrels, albatrosses, seagulls, sea turtles and sea lions on the beaches of Maldonado, a department east of the capital Montevideo.

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