Updated 11:45 AM EST, Sat, Dec 15, 2018

Chile News: Scientists Accused of Covering up Deaths of 337 Beached Whales for Five Months

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A group of scientists are accused of covering up the deaths of more than 300 whales beached in southern Chile for five months.

A veterinarians' association and an oceanographer claimed that the scientists put public health at risk because of their alleged concealment of the dead bodies, Fox News Latino reported.

The scientists allegedly found the remains in June and did not report it to Chilean officials until Nov. 17, withholding crucial information from the government and the rest of the scientific community "with a view to publishing an exclusive in a prestigious international academic journal" to be released before 2016, according to Fox News Latino.

In April, biologist Vreni Haussermann found the bodies of around 30 stranded sei whales in the Gulf of Penas in Chile's far south. Haussermann reported the discovery to the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service, which led an investigation into the deaths a few weeks later, Fox News Latino added.

However, Haussermann was not contented with the research being conducted and samples being taken, so she formed her own team with funding from the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program for an observation flight over the region that made them find 337 more beached whales between the Gulf of Penas and Puerto Natales. As an exchange, a deal was supposedly agreed upon with the research funding program to hold back the information for several months, the news outlet reported.

Since then, the group has been collecting samples to acquire data that will be featured in a scientific journal, Fox News Latino noted.

The 30 beached whales found in April and the 337 spotted in June are part of the same mortality event, oceanographer and whales expert Susannah Buchan said. She added that "concealing the information for five months and not reporting it to the relevant authorities is a serious ethical breach" on Haussermann's part and her team.

Haussermann, the director of the Huinay Scientific Field Station, which focuses on marine research, said that it is "one of the largest whale strandings worldwide," ABC News added. 305 bodies and 32 skeletons of whales were discovered through aerial and satellite photography in the distant Aysen area situated between the Gulf of Penas and Puerto Natales. The whales' cause of death is still unknown, but human intervention has been discounted.

"They probably died at sea, we don't know exactly where, but they didn't just die by stranding," said Carolina Simon Gutstein, a paleontologist at University of Chile and a part of the group, as reported by the news outlet. Sei, humpback, and blue whales belong to the rorquals family and are the largest group of baleen whales.

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