Statistics of success
The transit home from our expedition to the highest latitudes of the Southern Ocean has been a time for reflection on the significant success of the Antarctic blue whale voyage. All on board the Explorer are proud of what we have achieved, including all eight of our scientific objectives. In many respects our expectations of what we could achieve have been exceeded:
- 626 hours of acoustic recordings in the sample area; 26,545 calls of Antarctic blue whale were analysed in real time; 43 acoustic groups were targeted, with an 85% success rate.
- Identification of 57 individual Antarctic blue whales using photos, plus 11 pygmy blue whales. Identification of 23 individual Antarctic blue whales using biopsy samples, plus 8 humpback whales.
- Satellite tags on 2 Antarctic blue whales; both transmitting locations for more than 15 days so far.
- 100 specimens of Antarctic krill collected for genetics research.
But these statistics do not tell the whole story. Importantly this voyage demonstrated a suite of non-lethal techniques, including acoustic tracking, satellite tagging, photographic and genetic identification, which can be used to study the elusive Antarctic blue whales. The information gathered on this voyage will go towards answering the big question about just how many of these animals remain in the oceans today.
The ship will sail into Nelson on Sunday and then the real work begins in analysing the huge data set we have collected over the past seven weeks. The offices we go back to won’t heave with each wave and the outlook will be less exhilarating, but the work will be equally satisfying and worthwhile. Papers have to be prepared for the International Whaling Commission meeting in Korea in June and the methods, tested and proven on this voyage, will be communicated to our colleagues in the Southern Ocean Research Partnership.
We gratefully acknowledge the scientists and crew on the Explorer and the wider support team who have made this voyage not only possible, but a huge success.