Southern right whales off Santa Cruz, southern Patagonia, Argentina

The southern right whale saw its numbers depleted by commercial whaling. Since their protection in 1936 however, populations have begun to recover and Argentina currently register an annual population growth of this species of 5.9%.

The southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) saw its numbers depleted by commercial whaling. Since their protection in 1936 however, populations have begun to recover and Argentina currently register an annual population growth of this species of 5.9%.

In Argentina, the southern right whale was declared a "National Natural Monument" in 1984, becoming the first cetacean to achieve this protection. Santa Cruz province also declared the species "Provincial Natural Monument" in 2003. The protection of this species and associated activities such as whale watching, has facilitated in the development of coastal communities and enabled the recovery of the species in some areas. Although much is known about the life history of this species, there is however currently insufficient knowledge on this species after they leave the breeding grounds of Península Valdés, in Chubut Province, and return to the feeding grounds in and around Antarctica.

This project began in 2000 and focuses on the southern right whales off of Santa Cruz Province. The research involves undertaking an annual census and capturing photo-identification images resulting in the "Golfo San Jorge" catalogue for the species, a catalogue depicting all the individual animals that visit the area. An albino individual was photo-identified in 2008, it was subsequently compared with the catalogue of southern right whales from Península Valdés, and resulted in the first match between the two areas, a distance of approximately 500km.

The research indicates that the whales may use the south of the Golfo San Jorge for socializing and it is part of their migration between the nursery and the feeding grounds. Comparing catalogues from different areas will provide us with a better understanding about the species and the movements between areas. Since 2001, efforts have also been concentrated in Cabo Vírgenes, located about 9km from the eastern mouth of the Strait of Magellan in Argentina. Preliminary results show that this area may be important for the migration of the species. Santa Cruz province waters seem to be one of the routes used during the migration of this species however, further studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis and improve our knowledge on this species during its migration.

The objectives of this project are: -

  • To know about the presence of and habitat used by the southern right whale within the waters of Santa Cruz Province.
  • To photo-identify all southern right whales in the Golfo San Jorge through aerial surveys. Comparisons with other catalogues of photo identified whales by other institutions along the South West Atlantic can then be undertaken. 
  • Land based observations will allow us to establish the seasonal presence of southern right whales in Cabo Vírgenes, an area that appears to be crucial in the migration of this species.
  • Increase the conservation of southern right whales and their habitat, increasing the knowledge we have of this species in the province of Santa Cruz and raising awareness about the importance of preserving whales and other coastal environments.

The following papers have been published as a result of this work: -

  • Belgrano Jimena, Cristian de Haro, Cesar Gribaudo, Vanesa Tossenberger and Miguel Iñíguez. The Occurrence of Southern Right Whale (Eubalaena australis) in Santa Cruz, Patagonia Argentina (1986-2003). Marine Biodiversity Record. Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. In review.
  • Belgrano J., Kröhling F., Arcucci D. and Iñíguez M. SC/S11/RW23. Southern right whale photo-identification catalogue in Golfo San Jorge, Santa Cruz, Argentina (2007-2010). Workshop on the Assessment of Southern Right Whales Buenos Aires, 13-16 September 2011. International Whaling Commission (IWC ).
  • Belgrano Jimena, Florencia Kröhling, Débora Arcucci, Mariana Melcón and Miguel Iñíguez. SC/63/BRG11. First Southern right whale aerial surveys in Golfo San Jorge, Santa Cruz, Argentina. 2011. 5pp. Submitted to the Scientific Committee of the 63 International Whaling Commission.
  • Belgrano J., M. Iñíguez, J. Gibbons, C. García & C. Olavarría. 2008. South-west Atlantic right whales distribution nearby the Magellan Strait. Anales del Instituto de la Patagonia (Chile) 36 (2): 69-74.
  • Belgrano Jimena, César Gribaudo, Débora Arcucci, Florencia Kröhling and Miguel Iñíguez. SC/60/BGR4 Recent increasing in the number of Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) in Golfo San Jorge, Santa Cruz, Patagonia Argentina. 4pp. Submitted to the Scientific Committee of the 60 International Whaling Commission.
  • Iñíguez Miguel, J. Belgrano, A. Tomsin, C. de Haro, C. Gribaudoand V. Tossenberger. SC/55/BRG8 Sighting and stranding of Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) off Santa Cruz, Patagonia Argentina (1986-2003). 5pp. Submitted to the Scientific Committee of the 55 International Whaling Commission.

The following presentations have been made at various Marine Mammal Conferences: -

  • Belgrano Jimena, Débora Arcucci, Florencia Kröhling, Roberto Meyer y Miguel Iñíguez. Uso de Hábitat de la Ballena Franca Austral (Eubalaena australis) en el Golfo San Jorge, Santa Cruz, Argentina. Resultados Preliminares. 7-13 Ocober 2008 XIII RT de Especialistas en Mamíferos Acuáticos de América del Sur – 7o Congreso SOLAMAC. Montevideo, Uruguay. Poster.
  • Hevia, M, Belgrano, J, Cipriano, F, Combina, J, Gutiérrez, C, Torlaschi, C, Kröhling, F e Iñíguez, M. Varamiento de un Zifio de Shepherd (Tasmacetus Shepherdi) en el Sur de Argentina. 7-13 October 2008 XIII RT de Especialistas en Mamíferos Acuáticos de América del Sur – 7o Congreso SOLAMAC. Montevideo, Uruguay. Poster
  • Belgrano, Jimena, Gribaudo, César e Iñíguez, Miguel. Nueva zona de reproducción y crianza de Ballenas francas australes (Eubalaena australis) en el Golfo San Jorge, Santa Cruz, Patagonia Argentina. 5-9 November 2006 1º Reunión Internacional sobre el Estudio de Mamíferos Acuáticos SOMEMMA - SOLAMAC, Mérida, Yucatán México. Poster.
  • Belgrano, Jimena, Iñíguez, Miguel, y Gribaudo Cesar. Observaciones preliminares de Ballenas francas australes (Eubalaena australis) para las costas de Caleta Olivia y La Lobería - Santa Cruz, Patagonia Argentina (1988-2003). 12-17 September 2004. 11º Reunión de Trabajo de Especialistas en Mamíferos Acuáticos de América del Sur y 5º Congreso de la Sociedad Latinoamericana de Especialistas en Mamíferos Acuáticos (SOLAMAC), Quito, Ecuador. Poster.
  •  Iñiguez Miguel, J. Belgrano, V. Tossenberger, A. L., Tomsin & C. de Haro. Avistajes y Varamientos de Ballena franca austral (Eubalaena australis) para las costas de Santa Cruz, Patagonia Argentina (1986-2002). 10ª RT – 2002 - Valdivia (Chile). Poster.

The following articles have appeared in general interest magazines: -

  • Ballena franca austral: Soberana de nuestros mares. 2011. Revista Muy Interesante.
  • Investigación: Ballenas francas en el Mar Argentino. 2008. Revista Ecociencia y Naturaleza.
  • Ballena Franca en Costas de Santa Cruz. 2004. Revista la Portuaria. Año 3 Nº10 Sept/Oct.