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IWC-POWER Research Ship returns to Japan

The 8th annual IWC-POWER research cruise has concluded successfully after 12 weeks at sea.  

The International Whaling Commission - Pacific Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Reserach programme is a long-term, international collaboration studying cetacean populations in the North Pacific, including some areas which have not been surveyed for 40 years.  The work is overseen by the Scientific Committee of the IWC.  It uses a ship provided by the Government of Japan and incorporates scientists from a number of countries. 

This year's focus was north of the Aleutian Islands, a small chain separating the Bering Sea from the rest of the Pacific Ocean.  The research featured an acoustic component for the first time which was particularly important in detecting and locating rare North Pacific right whales. The acoustic data will be analysed with data from sightings, photo-identification and biopsies, to estimate whale abundance, and to study distribution, movements and population structure of whales in the North Pacific.

The specific, main objectives of this year's cruise were to:

(a) provide essential information to contribute to assessments of the status of North Pacific sei, humpback and gray whales, particularly in terms of abundance, distribution and population structure;

(b) add to the limited information on the critically endangered North Pacific right whale population in the eastern Pacific;

(c) work towards completion of the coverage of the northern range of fin whales following on from the IWC-POWER cruises in 2010-12;

(d) provide baseline information on the distribution, population structure and abundance for a poorly known area for several large whale species/populations, including those that were known to have been depleted in the past but whose status is unclear;

(e) provide essential information for the development of the medium-long term international programme in the North Pacific in order to meet the Commission’s long-term conservation and management objectives.

Facts and Figures

Sightings included 198 fin whales, 165 humpback whales, 20 common minke whales, 22 gray whales, 15 North Pacific right whales, 33 sperm whales and 134 killer whales.

The searching distance was almost 2,000 nautical miles.

Photo-identification data were collected for 55 fin whales, 34 humpback whales, 14 gray whales, 12 North Pacific right whales and 56 killer whales.

Skin samples for genetic analyses were collected from 28 fin whales, 18 humpback whales, 9 gray whales, 3 North Pacific right whales and 2 killer whales.

A total of 240 acoustic sonobuoys were deployed for a total of over 840 hours of monitoring.

Further details of this cruise will be presented at the IWC Scientific Committee meeting to be held in May/June 2018.

For information on previous IWC-POWER research cruises please click here.