Best of our wild blogs: 7 May 12

Pelagic Outing May 2012
from Con Foley Photography

Learning my plants: Flowers & fruits of Prunus polystachya!
from My Wild Life with Nature

Great morning at Pulau Subar Darat (Small Sister's Island)
from Peiyan.Photography

Striped Keelback
from Monday Morgue

Mystery of the seeds with wings (Part II)
from Peiyan.Photography

Read more!

Fire at reclaimed land put out

Channel NewsAsia 6 May 12;

SINGAPORE: A fire broke out on a piece of reclaimed land north east of the Singapore mainland on Sunday.

The football field-sized fire was put out by 10 SCDF fire-fighters, who were supported by marine fire vessels which pumped sea water for fire fighting purposes.

Some construction-site machinery, equipment and products believed to be used in land reclamation were affected by the fire.

There were no reported injuries.

The fire was responsible for the huge plumes of black smoke seen from the eastern parts of Singapore earlier on Sunday afternoon at about 2pm.

SCDF said its officers arrived on the reclaimed land at about 3pm and had brought the fire under control within an hour.

The fire was completely put out at 6.30pm.

- CNA/wm

Fires break out at 3 places in 1 day
Toa Payoh blaze involves items left in common area
Melissa Pang and Tessa Wong Straits Times 7 May 12;

Three fires broke out at different locations on Sunday - one at an HDB block, one at a Tuas plant, and another at an offshore piece of reclaimed land.

The residential fire was the second one in a week that involved items left in a common area. The incident happened last night on the eighth floor of Block 52, Toa Payoh Lorong 6.

Mr Jeawdeen, who goes by only one name, lives on the fifth floor and said he was watching television when he heard an explosion.

'I ran out to take a look and saw some people gathered downstairs shouting, 'Fire, fire'. When I looked up, there were flames bursting out of the eighth floor, where the lift landing is,' said the 32-year-old self-employed man.

A spokesman for the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it received a call at 7.42pm. The fire, which involved bicycles and discarded items, was extinguished in 15 minutes.

Residents who were interviewed said a family who lives in a unit beside the lift landing filled the space with as many as 10 bicycles, a mattress and a sofa.

Resident committee members told The Straits Times that the family had been warned as recently as early last month to remove the items.

Last Friday, a fire swept across the 11th floor of a block of rental flats in Marsiling Road. Eleven people were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation and breathlessness.

The fire was believed to have started at the lift landing, where a resident had left a pile of items such as chairs, mattresses and appliances.

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said later that town councils need to enforce rules against HDB residents who leave bulky items in common spaces.

Early Sunday morning, three explosions rocked a waste management plant in Tuas.

An eyewitness said it had been business as usual at Eco SWM before the fire broke out.

Technicians were transporting oil sludge into a funnel leading to an incinerator, which measures 60m by 60m, when they heard loud explosions.

Bright orange flames started shooting out of the funnel.

They quickly activated the alarm and scrambled out of the control room.

The room soon caught fire, leading to windows shattering and part of the roof collapsing.

The SCDF said it was alerted to the fire at around 12.50am on Sunday. Three fire engines were dispatched and SCDF personnel put out the blaze within half an hour.

The eyewitness, who declined to be named, said: 'We have no idea how it happened. Everything was going smoothly, the technicians had done their checks outside, and there were no fumes or smoke before the fire started.'

The SCDF said there were 25 employees on site at the time.

According to the Eco SWM website, the plant was established in 1998. It is part of the Eco group of companies which deals mainly in waste management for industrial and commercial industries.

Later, at around 2pm, the SCDF was once again mobilised for a fire at a piece of reclaimed land north-east of Singapore.

With the support of a Singapore Armed Forces marine vessel, the SCDF dispatched its vehicles and personnel to the location.

Firefighters arrived at the scene at 3pm and brought the blaze under control within an hour.

The fire, which occupied an area the size of a football field, was completely extinguished by 6.30pm.

The fire involved some construction-site machinery and equipment, and products believed to be used in land reclamation.

An SCDF spokesman said no one was at the scene when the fire occurred.

It is investigating the cases.

No one was hurt in all three incidents.

Reclaimed land burns
Amanda Lee Today Online 7 May 12;

SINGAPORE - A fire broke out yesterday on a piece of reclaimed land between Pulau Tekong and the mainland, sending black plumes of smoke into the sky that were visible from areas in the eastern part of Singapore.

According to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), it was alerted to the incident at 2.06pm.

With the support of a Singapore Armed Forces marine vessel, the SCDF despatched its vehicles and personnel to the reclaimed land.

Its officers arrived at about 3pm and within an hour the fire was brought under control, according to a statement from the SCDF.

It added that the fire was in an area that was about the size of a football field and it involved "construction-site machinery and equipment, and products believed to be used in land reclamation".

The blaze was completely extinguished at about 6.30pm. There were no reported injuries and the SCDF is investigating the cause of the fire.

It said yesterday's operation was the first that involved its new marine fire-fighting capability.

"Two marine fire vessels were deployed to help with the fire-fighting operation by pumping sea water to assist the fire-fighters on the ground," the SCDF said. AMANDA LEE

Fires at both ends of island keep SCDF busy
Joy Fang mypaper AsiaOne 7 May 12;

Two separate fires were reported on opposite ends of Singapore yesterday, but no one was injured.

In the first incident, waste materials at an incinerator plant in Tuas View Crescent caught fire early yesterday morning. The 1,600 sq m plant is owned by Singapore company Eco Special Waste Management.

A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) spokesman said a call was received at about 1am, and four fire engines, an ambulance and seven support vehicles were deployed to the site.

The fire was brought under control within half an hour. All 25 employees onsite at the time evacuated themselves safely before the SCDF arrived.

SCDF said it was investigating the fire.

Yesterday afternoon, the SCDF was alerted to another fire raging on a reclaimed island off north-eastern Singapore.

From about 2pm, 10 firefighters battled to put out the flames on the island between Pulau Tekong and the mainland with the help of SCDF marine fire vessels. A Singapore Armed Forces marine vessel was also called in to help.

The fire, which affected an area the size of a football field, was contained within a sand bunk wall. SCDF said the fire affected construction-site machinery and products used in land reclamation.

The blaze, which sent plumes of thick black smoke high into the air, was extinguished at 6.30pm by SCDF.

Stomp contributor Matthew Ho, 39, who works as a credit controller, told my paper that he could see thick, black smoke in the air while driving along the East Coast Parkway at about 3.30pm.

"The smoke was very dark and thick, but I could not hear or smell anything," he said.

Read more!

Heart of green: interview with NParks Chief Poon Hong Yuen

NParks chief Poon Hong Yuen's lack of specialised training is far outweighed by his love of greenery
john lui Straits Times 7 May 12;

Mr Poon Hong Yuen shows me the area around his office. The scenery is spectacular because, when you work in National Parks Board's (NParks) headquarters, the area around your office is the Botanic Gardens.

His enthusiasm - and his amazement at his good luck in his appointment - is evident during his guided tour.

'We have rubber trees that are the second generation from the ones planted by Ridley,' he says, pointing to a grove. Sir Henry Nicholas Ridley, the first scientific director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens from 1888 to 1911, helped establish the Malayan rubber industry.

We take the staff electric cart to the Herbarium, a collection of more than half a million preserved plant cuttings.

The numerous specimens are one thing, he says, but there is something else. The 43-year-old points to the spidery handwriting in notebooks, penned by naturalists, many from the years just after the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles. These archives have the weight of history. So do the trees outside in the gardens, as do all the parks and plants planted in Singapore from the time of her independence.

Mr Poon, who looks younger than his age, is not afraid to display a boyish enthusiasm for his job and the organisation. He and his family have been enjoying parks for years, he says. He uses emotive words such as 'proud', 'amazed' and 'jaw-dropping' when talking about the effect of the island's greening on visitors.

The history of who Singaporeans are as a people is tied to the greenery - that is the point he is trying to make, and that legacy is now in his hands. As he speaks, it becomes clear that 11/2 years into his job, he feels that weight more than ever.

Singapore today is radically different from the nation it was in 1967, when the Public Works Department created the Parks and Trees Unit to handle the growing job of national tree-planting, a project started by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Today, parks and trees are a quality of life issue and no one is more aware of this than Mr Poon.

NParks conducts surveys every two years and the last one, in 2010, is telling. 'Ninety per cent of people say parks and greenery are important, even if they do not visit parks. And 90 per cent of people think nature should be conserved, even if they don't visit nature,' he says.

He offers more numbers from the report. 'The number of people who visit parks at least once a week has grown from 700,000 in 2008 to 1.4 million. Anecdotally, if you go to the parks every weekend, they are packed.'

Expectations have also risen, he adds. 'If you have a road that does not have roadside trees, people will complain.'

Following from Mr Lee's vision of a Garden City, the need to plant trees is now deeply embedded in the national DNA. Satellite photographs show that almost half of Singapore (47 per cent in 2007) is covered in greenery, compared to about 36 per cent in 1986.

Today, there are more than 3,000ha of land space devoted to parks, park connectors and open spaces. Included in this space are the more than 300 parks that fall under NParks'care. In addition, it manages more than 3,000ha of nature reserves such as Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves.

Mr Poon carries on the plans set by his predecessors, such as the City In A Garden framework. 'When I came on board, I wanted to give thought to what City In A Garden means. There had always been this tagline, even since Dr Tan Wee Kiat's time. But we hadn't really fleshed it out, so I started asking the organisation questions and getting people involved,' he says. Dr Tan was NParks' first chief executive.

What emerged from Mr Poon's questions, with the help of online feedback from the public, was an ambitious set of proposals, such as the idea of Destination Parks. These are set to be regional parks that will feature recreational elements not usually found in public parks. Admiralty Park, for example, is hilly and so will have giant slides and climbing slopes, as well as biodiversity classrooms and exploratory gardens.

The other product of internal and online feedback is the Round Island Route, which will be an unbroken coastal recreational corridor around Singapore measuring 150km.

But NParks' continuing mission, he says, is to plant another kind of seed: to win the hearts of Singaporeans, so that they place an emotional stake in the nation's parks and natural habitats.

'There is no doubt we need public housing, good roads and good public transport. But greenery and nature - some people may see it as a good-to- have. I see it as my job, as will subsequent CEOs, to convince Singaporeans that greenery is a must-have,' he says.

His appointment to NParks in 2010, from the post of director at the Ministry of Finance, made him the third head of the statutory board (under the Ministry of National Development) and the second chief to not have background in the natural sciences.

NParks in its current form was created in 1996, taking under its wings the former Parks and Recreation Department, the Botanic Gardens and Singapore's nature reserves.

Its first chief, Dr Tan, had trained in botany, horticulture and orchidology, and is today the chief executive of Gardens By The Bay. He was succeeded by Mr Ng Lang, trained in chemical engineering, who was NParks' head from 2006 until August 2010, when Mr Poon took over.

Dr Shawn Lum, 49, president of the Nature Society, has spoken often with Mr Poon, formally and informally. He considers him a 'good model of a modern chief executive', one who makes sure all stakeholders have a place at the table. This inclusiveness is a necessary trait because of the nature of the organisation and the changing needs of the people it serves.

He says: 'NParks is an organisation with an extremely wide-ranging mission. It does everything from international conservation policy to maintaining playground equipment. Back in its early days, environmental consciousness was not as strong. Today, there are more visitors to parks. NParks has to serve joggers, skaters and cyclists, and people are more vocal. It's just mushroomed and become a more complex job.'

He points out that the worlds of economics and ecology are not as far apart as people think. At the higher level, it is all about systems, using statistical models that are similar across fields, from weather studies to finance.

More importantly, Mr Poon possesses a trait that too few leaders have: letting others take the limelight.

Last year, during a visit by President Tony Tan to the Treetop Walk at the MacRitchie area, Mr Poon invited experts from outside NParks, such as the Nature Society, to come along to speak with the President about the flora and fauna, even though there were experts within NParks who could have done the job, says Dr Lum.

'Mr Poon was extremely gracious,' he says, by allowing others with more specialised animal or plant knowledge to speak directly to the President, rather than acting as the intermediary. 'He has that ability to cede the moment to another person, to accord a place at the table to others outside his organisation.'

How did a career administrator such as Mr Poon become head of an organisation concerned with nature and greenery?

There was a good fit between his personal interests and the challenge of trying something new, Mr Poon says.

'I have always been a regular visitor of parks and the Botanic Gardens. So when I was asked whether I would be interested in the job, I said yes,' he says.

People around him were surprised by his choice. 'The day before my appointment was due to be announced, I told my division in the Finance Ministry, so that they would not have to learn about it in the newspapers. I said, 'You will never guess where I am going,'' he says.

One person gave the right answer. That person had chanced upon the answer by picking the least likely organisation, he says with a laugh.

Asked about differences in culture between his former workplaces and NParks, he noted that NParks is several degrees closer to the people it serves. 'NParks is as social as you can get.'

The other difference is that many NParks employees have a unique closeness to their jobs. There are caretakers who have worked in the Botanic Gardens for decades, whose fathers also worked at the park. These self-taught experts are so familiar with plants that scientists turn to them for information, Mr Poon says.

'The people in NParks love what they do. And they take great pride in being custodians of our green assets,' he says. He constantly seeks the views of staff through town hall meetings and through the board's internal website, where he has a blog.

He hopes that any stereotype of him as a bean-counting finance man, if there had been one held by NParks staff on his first arrival, would have been dispelled by now. His ex-colleagues, though, say he has never been that kind of person in the first place.

Mr Alvin Moh, a deputy director for immigration and registration at the Ministry of Home Affairs, had worked with Mr Poon on Budget 2009 measures, such as the Jobs Credit scheme. Then, Mr Moh was a deputy head and Mr Poon a director in the Finance Ministry.

There is no dogma with Mr Poon, says Mr Moh. 'He likes to get information from as many sources as possible... there is a general openness of mindset. We might have a disagreement over an idea, but we would be able to have a discussion to justify our views,' says Mr Moh.

The Jobs Credit scheme was a radical plan to stop job losses caused by the 2008 sub-prime crisis. Led by Mr Poon, the team at the Finance Ministry devised a $4.5-billion scheme to help companies pay employee costs, allowing them to hold on to more workers. The Singapore economy had suffered two straight quarters of shrinkage and a tsunami of retrenchments was feared then.

The scheme made news because government intervention like that had never been tried. Mr Poon says he has always been drawn to the sort of 'blank sheet' thinking that produced the scheme.

Mr Lee Kok Fatt, 38, principal private secretary to the President, was a fellow director at the Finance Ministry with Mr Poon, from 2007 to 2010, until Mr Poon moved to NParks. At that time, Mr Lee was director of fiscal policy.

He describes Mr Poon as someone who 'plunges into his work and does not shy away from details'.

Says Mr Lee: 'He will find the larger meaning behind the job. I think that is what drives him. He enjoys working with people and building teams and infecting them with his own passion.'

Mr Poon attended Serangoon Gardens South Primary, Maris Stella High School and Hwa Chong Junior College. His mother is a housewife and his father, who is retired, was a businessman and later a taxi driver. They are both in their late 60s.

Mr Poon has one older sister, a younger sister and a younger brother. Both sisters are teachers and his brother is an investment manager.

At junior college, Mr Poon became deeply interested in student government, so much so that he would skip lectures to help organise social events.

He reckons that during that period, he learnt how to deal with groups of people, even though he is certain there is an introverted side to him. 'I think I am a trained extrovert. I got into extra-curricular activities that made me outward-looking and able to make speeches. I learnt it as a student counsellor.'

He then went to Imperial College in London under an Economic Development Board scholarship, where he received a degree in electronic engineering. On his return in 1993, he joined the board where he stayed till 2000, before leaving to join a private venture-capital firm.

He rejoined the civil service in 2003, with the Infocomm Development Authority, before eventually rising to be director of economic programmes at the Finance Ministry.

Since 1997, he has been married to Madam Chew Poh, a housewife. They have two sons, aged 11 and six, and live in a condominium in the Newton area.

In his spare moments, he goes cycling with his family. He is also a regular jogger. The place where these activities are carried out: parks, of course. But now, his eye is a little sharper.

He jokingly calls it an occupational hazard. 'I see it from the customer's experience point of view. For example, I ask 'Is this the best place to put a bench? Is this the best place to put a bin? How can this playground be made more exciting? Is this park clean enough?''

my life so far

'A person like me has the licence to ask stupid questions and that can be very valuable. I always say, 'I may not be a plant expert, I am an average user.' The average Joe might not go deep into the forest to look for wildlife, so it may be a good idea to bring wildlife out of the forest and into where we live, work and play' - Mr Poon Hong Yuen, on the advantages of being an outsider to the world of botany

'Some people are uncomfortable with a blank sheet of paper. Some people love a blank sheet because they can do anything they want. I have always enjoyed doing things that are forward-looking, blank-sheet things' - On taking on new challenges

'I was never a model student. I was never a monitor or prefect because those are chosen by teachers. I was class chairman in secondary school because those are voted for by classmates. In junior college, I was a student counsellor and at Imperial College, I was president of the Singapore Society. If chosen by a teacher, I would have no chance' - On his track record in school

'Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew is still very involved. It's encouraging. Our staff at the Istana will get a personal e-mail praising them for the good work. He sent a handwritten note to the NParks chairman, Mrs Christina Ong, telling her that the board's annual report was done well' - On Mr Lee's continuing personal interest in greenery. He launched the Garden City idea and the first Tree Planting Campaign in 1963

Read more!

NGO proposes animal welfare curriculum in schools

Syed Amir Hussain Today Online 7 May 12;

SINGAPORE - As schools here move towards a more value-driven education, animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) is proposing that animal welfare be included in the formal curriculum, as part of the new character and citizenship education programme in schools.

Currently, ACRES gives talks on the topic - which covers issues such as wildlife trade and wildlife rescue - at educational institutions on an ad-hoc basis.

Speaking to Today, ACRES executive director Louis Ng reiterated that the topic "shouldn't be something outside the curriculum". Said Mr Ng: "If it's within the curriculum, then there will be a greater emphasis on it, rather than, say, something that is extra curriculum."

At a get-together session with supporters yesterday, Mr Ng also shared ACRES' other initiatives in the pipeline.

Among other things, ACRES plans to work with regional governments, regulators and companies to push for a ban on animal testing within the region, similar to what the European Union has done, said Mr Ng.

It will also produce an extensive guide called cruelty-free living, which will be made available for download at its website. The guide will detail all the ways people can ensure they are animal-friendly in their choices as consumers and the activities they partake in.

On the animal welfare situation, Mr Ng told Today that the past year has "definitely been a breakthrough" for animal welfare.

The group jointly held the first ever public forum on animal welfare policies in June last year, which "provided a platform for Singaporeans to speak up on this issue".

The forum attracted more than 400 participants, who provided "constructive feedback", Mr Ng noted.

The second such forum held in February this year also attracted a substantial turnout, with more than 500 people attending.

Read more!

Philippines: Whale sharks can't stand heat in Donsol

Celso Amo The Philippine Star 7 May 12;

LEGAZPI CITY , Philippines – Even the whale sharks are shying away from the warm surface seawater off Donsol, the town dubbed as the whale shark capital of the world.

The low sighting of whale sharks in the past few days is causing local and tourism officials to worry as more tourists are going to Donsol for the peak season from March to May.

“We are going to hold our biggest promotion this month since the butandings were discovered eleven years ago,” Donsol municipal official and chairperson of the Whale Shark Festival 2012 Ronald Malimlim announced during the launch on Wednesday.

“Of course, we are worried after the butanding interaction officers reported only five sightings these past days,” Malimlim said.

According to Maria Ravanilla, Department of Tourism (DOT) regional director, some 13,717 tourists came to Donsol from January to March this year, mostly foreign tourists (7,771) and the rest local (5,946).

“This could be due to warming sea water temperature spawned by global warming,” Ravanilla noted.

She added that the local tourism council in consultation with various stakeholders including the World Wide Fund (WWF) has made a recommendation to limit the number of motor boats to just 15, which could sail for the whale shark interaction stating 7 a.m. Another 15 boats will be allowed to sail at 8 a.m.

“This will lessen the amount of noise on the surface water, which disturbs the whale shark while feeding on the planktons below,” Ravanilla explained.

During the peak season some 30 motorboats are out at sea just to find the whale sharks and once they are spotted almost all of them converge on the sea so tourists can interact with the butandings.

WWF coordinator Raul Burce, who made an extensive study of documenting the whale sharks off Donsol, said there is no conclusive finding yet that the drop in sightings is due to global warming.

“This seasonal phenomenon happened during the La NiƱa season in 2001,” Burce said.

Burce disclosed that many whale sharks are migrating to the San Jacinto-Monreal portion of Ticao Pass, about 30 kilometers from Donsol.

“They are staying deeper and near the Manta Ray reservation site,” Burce noted.

Since January, Burce and his group have identified some 62 whale sharks based on their length and spots in their bodies and of the 62, some 49 whale sharks returned to Donsol.

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) popularly called here as butanding... begins to show up between December to May off the waters of Donsol, which is one of their seasonal feeding grounds.

Malimlim added that more whale shark sightings could be expected with the start of the rainy season between the third week of May and first week of June.

“I just hope and pray they are still around.”

Read more!

Keep Off Beaches, Peru Warns After Pelican Deaths

Marco Aquino, Caroline Stauffer PlanetArk 7 May 12;

Peru's government declared a health alert along its northern coastline on Saturday and urged residents and tourists to stay away from long stretches of beach, as it investigates the unexplained deaths of hundreds of dolphins and pelicans.

At least 1,200 birds, mostly pelicans, washed up dead along a stretch of Peru's northern Pacific coastline in recent weeks, health officials said, after an estimated 800 dolphins died in the same area in recent months.

The Health Ministry recommended staying away from beaches, although it stopped short of a ban, and called on health officials to use gloves, masks and other protective gear when collecting dead birds.

The peak tourism season around Lima's beaches is over, although many surfers are still venturing into the waters near the capital.

The Agriculture Ministry said preliminary tests on some dead pelicans pointed to malnourishment. Oscar Dominguez, head of the ministry's health department, said experts had ruled out bird flu.

"The Health Ministry ... calls on the population to abstain from going to the beaches until the health alert is lifted," the ministry said in a statement on its website, along with a photograph of a dead pelican.

The ministry said officials had so far checked 18 beaches in and around Lima for dead birds, but gave no details on any findings.

"We're starting from the hypothesis that it's because the birds are young and unable to find enough food for themselves, and also because the sea temperature has risen and anchovies have moved elsewhere," said Deputy Agriculture Minister Juan Rheineck.

A mass pelican death along Peru's northern coast in 1997 was blamed at the time on a shortage of feeder anchovies due to the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Some were undeterred by the mysterious deaths.

"We eat fresh fish on the quay of Chorrillos every day, and no fisherman has died yet, so don't worry, it's nothing," said Gloria Rivera, a seafood restaurant owner.

(Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Alarm as Peru pelican and dolphin deaths rise
AFP Yahoo News 8 May 12;

Peru's northern beaches have been declared off-limits as scientists scramble to pin down what is causing the mysterious deaths of thousands of birds and dolphins.

Since March some 4,000 birds, mostly pelicans and boobies, have been found dead along a 200-kilometer (120 mile) stretch of northern coastline reaching up to the border with Ecuador along with at least 900 dolphins.

The South American nation's health ministry declared an alert at the weekend, urging the public to stay away from the beaches around Lima and on the northern coast until the cause of death is known.

For the time being, the state environment ministry has ruled out water contamination or damage from dragnet fishing, suggesting cautiously that wildlife may be falling victim to a virus.

"Once we know what the scientific causes behind these deaths are, we will lift the alert," said health ministry spokesman Bernardo Ausejo, adding the investigations could take another five to 10 days.

A team of ornithologists have also been investigating the mysterious death of the birds which started after dead dolphins began to wash ashore in January in the northern departments of Piura and Lambayeque.

But biologist Guillermo Boigorrea, from the agriculture ministry in Lambayeque, said although nothing had been determined for sure, "it seems that the birds died of starvation.

"Now we have to find out why the birds can't fly or fish," he said, adding scientists had also been analyzing the seawater.

"It's unbelievable that the Oceanic Institute has still not given a reason for the massive deaths of pelicans and dolphins," said Carlos Bocanegra, a renowned biologist from the University of Trujillo.

"I believe we are trying to protect certain interests," he told Peruvian radio, in an allusion to the powerful fishing industry, which is one of the mainstays of the nation's economy.

One non-government conservation organization, known as ORCA, has blamed the dolphin deaths on oil exploration activities in the area, which it claims produces noises which are having an acoustic impact on the mammals.

The huge die-off "is a risk for human health in case of a possible mutation of the virus," said German biologist Stefan Austermuehle, head of another environmental group Mundo Azul.

Local health officials are also asking residents not to eat raw fish, to avoid swimming in the seas and to stay away from beaches where animals have been found dead. On Tuesday red flags were flying on some of the beaches warning of the danger.

Former health minister Uriel Garcia blamed excessive fishing for the pelican deaths, saying stocks of some species were running low such as anchovies, a favorite food of the sea-birds.

In an editorial with the daily El Comercio, he also maintained the birds were dying of starvation, not sickness.

And weather expert Abraham Levy hypothesized that the warming of the Pacific waters due to El Nino could be to blame.

"The warming of the waters alters the food chain, which is very complex and starts with the plankton and ends with the marine birds and the marine mammals on the other," he told AFP.

Meanwhile, deputy minister of fishing Patricia Majluf said she was resigning on Friday as the sector was "in disorder, full of irregularities and corruption."

Read more!