On Thursday (30), the Chilean Fisheries and Aquaculture Agency (Sernapesca) in the Biobío region confirmed that more than 70 sea lions have died off the coast of Isla Santa María and that this “could be due to avian flu.”
According to Chilean media, residents of the island territory, located 27 kilometers from Coronel, just over 500 kilometers south of Santiago, reported the appearance of sea lions on the coast of the Puerto Norte and Puerto Sur sectors.
Although the increase in deaths in this species is related to the large population of more than 5,000 animals in the area, a positive case of a sea lion with avian influenza was confirmed last week in the same region.
In this regard, the director of Sernapesca del Biobío, Iván Oyarzún, pointed out that it cannot be excluded that the cause of death of these mammals is due to avian flu.
He even warned that it is very likely that it is this disease.
“We are talking about more than 70 dead animals, and two weeks ago, a positive case of a sea lion with avian flu was confirmed in Coronel.”
“Since we have also seen animals with symptoms associated or compatible with this disease, we conclude that the mortality we are seeing can most likely be attributed to avian influenza on the island,” the director said.
Last Wednesday, the Ministry of Health (Minsal) reported the first human case of avian influenza detected in northern Chile.
The avian influenza virus (H5N1) is of Eurasian origin, was detected in 2021, and arrived in Chile in late 2022.
The first cases affected birds such as pelicans, gulls, and penguins, but it spread to other animals.
Before the discovery of the 70 dead sea lions, according to the latest Sernapesca report, 532 sea lions, 234 Humboldt penguins, and six chungungos were reported dead on the coasts of the northern macrozone in the first quarter of 2023.
The regions affected are Arica and Parinacota, with 292 dead sea lions, and Atacama, with 139 dead Humboldt penguins.
This number is 482.4% higher than the total number of strandings of these species reported in 2022 and is described by authorities as “a historic number of dead stranded marine animals.”