Size in Square Kilometres
11 251 km2
Qualifying Species and Criteria
Southern right whale – Eubalaena australis
Criterion A; C (1)
Sei whale – Balaenoptera borealis
[Southern – B. b. schlegelii]
Marine Mammal Diversity
Cephalorhynchus eutropia, Lagenorhynchus australis, Phocoena spinipinnis
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The Gulf of Penas is a remote area situated in the Chilean Patagonia system, which is not formally protected. This area is used by two baleen whale species, southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) and southern sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis schlegelii). The Chile-Peru subpopulation of the southern right whale experienced a decline due to intense commercial whaling which led to its near extirpation. Currently this subpopulation is considered to have fewer than 50 mature individuals. Until recently, no breeding reproductive areas had been identified. The Gulf of Penas has recently been proposed as a calving ground given the number of sightings of cow-calf pairs during the 2017, 2020, and 2021 winter seasons. In contrast, sei whales are more commonly recorded in the area during the austral summer season, which also coincides with mass mortality events involving sei whales in the area in recent years.
Description of Qualifying Criteria
Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability
The ‘Chilean-Peru’ subpopulation of the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) experienced a decline due to intense commercial whaling conducted between 1789 and 1976 with around 9,000 individuals hunted (Clarke, 1965; Aguayo-Lobo et al., 1998; Aguayo-Lobo et al. 2008; Pastene and Quiroz, 2010). This exploitation led them to near extinction and currently this subpopulation is considered to have fewer than 50 mature individuals (Reilly et al., 2008; Cooke, 2018). The Chile-Peru subpopulation of southern right whales is listed as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (Cooke, 2018a), and as ‘Critically Endangered’ at the national level under the Chilean government classification (clasificacionespecies.mma.gob.cl). Sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) are listed as Endangered under IUCN Red List status (Cooke, 2018b), and as ‘Critically Endangered’ for the country by the Chilean government (clasificacionespecies.mma.gob.cl). Sei whales are more commonly recorded in the area during the austral summer season, which also coincides with mass mortality events involving sei whales in the area in recent years (Häussermann et al., 2017).
Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities
Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas
Until recently, feeding or breeding areas had not yet been identified for the Chile-Peru subpopulation of southern right whales, despite a few cow-calf pairs having been observed along the Peruvian and Chilean coasts on several occasions (see García-Cegarra et al., 2021 for a review of these sightings). However, the Gulf of Penas area has recently been proposed as a calving ground for the ‘Chilean-Peru’ subpopulation of the southern right whale, based on the number of sightings of cow-calf pairs during the 2017, 2020, and 2021 winter seasons, particularly close to the shores of San Quintin Bay (Olavarria, unpublished data).
Aguayo-Lobo, A., Torres, D. and Acevedo, J. 1998. Los mamíferos marinos de Chile: I. Cetacea. Serie Científica Instituto Antártico Chileno 48: 19-159.
Aguayo-Lobo, A., Acevedo, J., Brito, J.L., Olavarría, C., Moraga, R. and Olave, C. 2008. La ballena franca del sur, Eubalaena australis (Desmoulins, 1822) en aguas chilenas: análisis de sus registros desde 1976 a 2008. Revista de Biología Marina y Oceanografía 43(3): 653-668.
Clarke PJ, Cubaynes HC, Stockin KA, Olavarria C, de Vos A, Fretwell PT, Jackson JA. 2021. Cetacean strandings from space: challenges and opportunities of Very High Resolution satellites for the remote monitoring of cetacean mass strandings. Frontiers in Marine Science, section Ocean Observation. DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2021.650735
Cooke, J.G. 2018a. Eubalaena australis Chile-Peru subpopulation. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018. https://doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T133704A50385137.en
Cooke, J.G. 2018b. Balaenoptera borealis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T2475A130482064. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T2475A130482064.en. Accessed on 08 October 2022.
Fretwell PT, Jackson JA, Ulloa Encina MJ, Häussermann V, Perez Alvarez MJ, Olavarría C, Gutstein CS. 2019. Using remote sensing to detect whale strandings in remote areas: The case of sei whales mass mortality in Chilean Patagonia. PLoS ONE 14(10): e0222498. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0222498
García-Cegarra, A.M., Malebran, M. and Van Waerebeek, K. 2021. Antofagasta Region in northern Chile, a potential nursing ground for the Southern right whale Eubalaena australis. Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals 16(1): 40-45. Available at DOI 10.5597/lajam00270.
Häussermann V, Gutstein CS, Beddington M, Cassis D, Olavarria C, Dale AC, Valenzuela-Toro AM, Perez-Alvarez MJ, Sepúlveda HH, McConnell KM, Horwitz FE, Försterra G. 2017. Largest baleen whale mass mortality during strong El Niño event is likely related to harmful toxic algal bloom. PeerJ 5: e3123. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.3123
Olavarria C, Flores M, Torres D. 2018. Gulf of Penas: The last haven of the Southern Right Whale? Presented to the XII Congreso de la Sociedad Latinoamericana de especialistas en Mamíferos Acuáticos. 5 – 8 de November, Lima, Perú.
Olavarria, C., Pashuk, K.L, Landreth, G., Torres, D., et al (other 13 contributors). 2019. Preliminary report on a new baleen whale mortality at the Gulf of Penas, southern Chile, that occurred late 2019 summer. Unpublished.
Pastene, L. and Shimada, H. 1999. Report of a sighting survey in Chile’s exclusive economic zone with comments on sei whale distribution. Anales del Instituto de la Patagonia 27: 51-62.
Pastene, L.A. and Quiroz, D. 2010. An outline of the history of whaling in Chile. Pages 73-98 in International Center for Folk Culture Studies, Human Culture from the perspective of traditional maritime communities. International Symposium Report No. 1. Kanagawa Shimbun Press, Kanagawa, Japan. Available at https://www.academia.edu/1871805/An_Outline_of_the_History_of_Whaling_in_Chile
Reilly, S.B., Bannister, J.L., Best, P.B., Brown, M., Brownell Jr, R.L., Butterworth, D.S., Clapham, P.J., Cooke, J., Donovan, G.P., Urban, J. and Zerbini, A.N. 2008. Eubalaena australis (Chile-Peru subpopulation). In: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2012.2. Available http://iucn.redlist.org