This week, for the first time, the International Whaling Commission is meeting in Santiago. Yesterday at Quintay, a former whaling station south of Valparaíso, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet took advantage of the occasion to declare all 43 cetacean species in Chilean waters to be national monuments.
In Chile, a national monument is usually an archaeological or architectural landmark, and it may also be a protected area comparable to a national park (though usually much smaller). The designation can also apply, however, to "regions, objects, or living species of plants or animals of aesthetic, historic, or scientific interest, to which is given absolute protection." There is plenty of precedent for Bachelet's action, which in effect creates a coastal reserve of 3.3 million square miles within Chile's 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone; other species enjoying such protection include the alerce (falsh larch) tree, the Andean condor, and the Andean huemul (a endemic deer that appears on Chile's coat-of-arms). Marine mammals such as Commerson's dolphin (pictured here) will join them on the list.
In Argentina, the southern right whale that breeds at Península Valdés enjoys similar status under the national park service, but this measure is less far-reaching that the new Chilean measure (which drew immediate objections from Japan, which does whaling for "scientific research" in the southern oceans and Antarctica).