Monday, December 27, 2010

Palomino Island South American sea lion survey

At last we have our boat trip scheduled, and we need to be at the marine by 9:45 AM on Sunday.  Dogs barking in the neighborhood wake me up at 4:30 AM, and I can't go back to sleep so I begin to prepare as I know I have a long bus ride ahead.
I arrive at the Puente Benevides bus top in Lima City at one minute after 8:00.  I watch the street activities while I am waiting for Carlos and I reflect upon my first night in Lima City when Carlos explained his mission to "bring Lima City to the ocean."  There is congested automobile traffic here just like any other city, brand new vechicles interspersed with old broken down junkers, well dressed people on their way to work and here and there are a few people hanging out on the street corner, and every home has electric fencing or barbed gates that protect the interior.  Presently Carlos walks up, we greet, and make our way to the next bus stop where we will meet up with Fio.

Each time I ride the bus I am astounded by the size and spread of Lima City.  Many Peruvian teens ride the bus, they chat and laugh while I gaze wide eyed out the window.  The outlying suburbs of Lima City do not appear to go through any kind of gentrification; the old and worn out buildings have occupants and many crumbling tenements have structures built atop the roofs in order to make room for more people to live.  There are 9 million people in Lima City, and when Carlos asks me of my impression I tell him that with 9 million people living near the ocean there will always be an impact.

Spanish colonial style homes along the main avenida
After an hour's ride on the bus we arrive in the township of Callao, which was the original Spanish settlement when they arrived on this part of the continent, and I immediately notice the change in the towering architecture including flying verandas and columnades.  The Peruvian Navy has its ports and museums here as well.

Plaza and entrance to the Callao marina
After having a cafe in one of the open air restaurants, we make our way to the marina to stand in line for our catamaran.  ORCA Peru has formed a relationship with one of the tour boat operators, who will assist ORCA volunteers in making the necessary surveys of sea lions at Palomino Island.  In return, ORCA is offering educational information about South American sea lions to the naturalists on the tour.

As we are boarding, Carlos points to the water; it reminds me of the color of glacier runoff or the ocean during herring spawn.  Carlos tells me that the wastewater treatment plant removes human waste before the water is discharged, but the chemicals used during the process, such as chlorine, are not removed.  He tells me that in San Bartolo, the mayor has solved this problem by upgrading the treatment system and Callao is supposed to do the same.  As the catamaran gets underway we pass through a plume of brown colored water and Carlos wrinkles his nose; "they must be discharging sewage waste...we work with the city to do water sampling but this is not right...".  The tour boat operator tells me the same thing, it is contaminacion and it is encircling Palomino Island.

The boat steers straight for the sea lion rookery to the south of Palomino Island; all of the rookeries are protected as reserves but the main island is not included.  There are several establishments on the island and the remains of a jail for political prisoners.  Carlos tells me that in the 1980s the presidente wanted to close the prison, so an uprising was staged and all of the prisoners were killed.
Sailboat near Paolomino Island
We round the southern tip of Palomino and approach several rocky islets swarming with pelicans, shearwaters, cormorants, and gulls.  Our target is a pyramid shaped island with a cliff face where several small motor boats are drifting, and I can barely make out the wiggling bodies and groaning calls of the sea lion residents.  Carlos has us position ourselves with cameras and video; he will be taking still photos of the rookery to assist him with identification and abundance estimates, and I will be videotaping the activities of the other boating participants.  The catamaran that we are on has a policy of keeping its distance (although we do come closer to the rookery than what is allowed in the United States), but there are small boat operators that take passengers on a "swim with sea lions" tour that costs $80-$100 U.S.  As you watch this video, keep your eye on the group of young swimmers as they get closer and closer to the rookery:

It would almost be comical if it wasn't so dangerous; fortunately in the U.S. we have the Marine Mammal Protection Act which prohibits approaching any marine mammal within 300 feet. Nevertheless, we have created a situation in Sitka's harbors where the Stellar sea lions have become so aggressive from their interactions with humans feeding them fish scraps that there are several divers that have been grabbed by their fins and dragged several feet.    Many divers can attest to how dangerous a sea lion can be in the water.  Carlos wants to see regulation in the tour operating industry that will not only protect the people who come to view these magnificent creatures, but will protect the sea lions themselves.  I am heartened that our tour boat operator conducted himself in a very professional manner, and offered an educational narrative to our trip versus promoting a dangerous activity.

Carlos spots a sea lion that is struggling to keep its position on the rocks, it appears weak and is weaving and bobbing its head as it struggles to climb a boulder.  I ask Carlos if he thinks the animal has distemper, and he tells me no, the animal is most likely suffering from gastritis.  This condition is caused by a bacteria, and can be fatal to the animal.  Carlos has seen several cases of gastritis in sea lions that were exposed to contaminated water, he is able to treat them if they can be captured by his volunteers and brought to the base clinic in San Bartolo.

We leave the rookery to continue our tour around the main island, and presently we came upon a beautiful rock outcropping with a sloping shelf near the water's edge.  Upon this rock were about 50 Humboldt's penguinos sunning and resting themselves.

Carlos was puzzled as to why there weren't at least 200 penguinos on the rock, but this species of penguins is doing well in Peru and they go where the fish are abundant.  Overhead, many seabirds were on the wing circling and flocking, and I was reminded of the birds of Saint Lazaria Island.

We continued our tour of the island; I am so happy to be on the ocean and have the opportunity to look out across the beautiful, shining, south Pacific ocean.  My two week stay with ORCA Peru is drawing to a close and I will be on to the next adventure very soon, and during this time I have been overwhelmed with the beauty and vastness of the Peruvian coast.  Many of the sites and experiences that I have shared with you are purely the result of humans populating and interacting in the habitat of the animals that live and migrate through these waters, and as a result these animals are changing their migratory patterns far out to sea and are heading to the southern, less populated section of the country.  It is the hope of ORCA and its partners that the people of Lima City will continue to benefit from education and outreach, learning to live with a respect for the sea and the creatures that call this coastline their home.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.