Authorities on Saturday reported that around 2,000 dead penguins have mysteriously washed up on the coast of eastern Uruguay over the last 10 days as the cause of their death is unclear and does not appear to be avian influenza.
According to Carmen Leizagoyen, head of the Environment Ministry’s Department of Fauna, the Magellanic penguins, mostly juveniles, died in the Atlantic Ocean and ended up on the Uruguayan shores via currents.
“This is mortality in the water. 90% are young specimens that arrive without fat reserves and with empty stomachs,” she said and emphasised that all samples taken tested negative for avian influenza.
According to NDTV, Magellanic penguins nest in southern Argentina and migrate north in search of food and warmer waters in the southern hemisphere winter. They even reach the coast of the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo.
“It is normal for some percentage to die, but not these numbers,” Leizagoyen said, recalling a similar incident that occurred last year in Brazil, for reasons that remain unclear.
Meanwhile, Hector Caymaris, director of the Laguna de Rocha protected area, shared that he counted more than 500 dead penguins along six miles (10 kilometres) of the Atlantic coast.
The rising deaths of Magellanic penguins have been linked to overfishing and illegal fishing by environmental advocates.
“From the 1990s and 2000s, we began to see animals with a lack of food. The resource is overexploited,” Richard Tesore, of the NGO SOS Marine Wildlife Rescue, said.
In addition, he said that a subtropical cyclone in the Atlantic, which hit southeastern Brazil in mid-July, could have potentially caused the weakest animals to die from the unpleasantly cold weather.
In addition to penguins, Tesore said he has recently found dead petrels, albatrosses, seagulls, sea turtles and sea lions on the beaches of Maldonado, a department east of the capital Montevideo.
Previously, in a similar incident that occurred last month, thousands of dead fish were found washed ashore at Quintana Beach County Park along the Texas Gulf Coast due to “a low dissolved oxygen event” in warm water, US officials have said.