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Pacific Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research Programme

The IWC-POWER research cruises are an important component of the IWC’s work, and the successor to the Southern Ocean programme (SOWER) which ran in the Antarctic for over thirty years and surveyed the complete circumpolar area south of 60°S three times. The IWC-POWER programme is an international effort co-ordinated by the IWC and designed by the IWC's Scientific Committee, with a vessel generously donated by Japan.  As its name suggests, the cruises focus on the (North) Pacific Ocean, and particularly little studied areas, some of which have not been surveyed for 40 years.

IWC-POWER is a long term programme which is expected to run for more than 10 years. Detecting trends in numbers of long-lived animals such as whales takes a long time.  The ultimate objective is to provide information which will allow scientists to determine the status of populations of the large whales found in North Pacific Waters.  This information will provide the scientific background to assess the need for conservation and management action and, if actions are necessary, monitor their effectiveness.  Click here to read more about the objectives of the POWER programme. 

The programme is now entering its seventh year.  The issue of collaboration is fundamental to its success.  In addition to the major contribution of Japan, the scientists' expenses and specialist equipment are funded by the IWC.  So far scientists from Japan, the Republic of Korea, the USA, Mexico and the UK have participated in the fieldwork.  In addition, scientists from Australia and Europe are members of a specialist IWC-POWER steering group.

The duration of each cruise is approximately 60 days.  This is the maximum operational period of the vessel before refueling and resupplying is necessary.  By the time the vessel has travelled to and from the area of study, approximately 35-45 days remain for research.  The scientists on board work from one hour after sunrise to one hour before sunset, making the most of the opportunity and the daylight.  Between 70 and 90 nautical miles are covered each day that the vessel is in the research area. 

One major component of research undertaken on the cruise is the collection of sightings data to allow determination of what species of whales and dolphins are present, where they are found and the estimation of how many of each species there are.  Scientists also collect biopsy samples from some animals.  These can be analysed in several different ways to look at relationships amongst animals, what sex they are, levels of pollutants, information on their diet, identification of individuals ('fingerprinting') and even information on their reproductive state.  For many species, photographs can be used to identify individuals.  When collected over several seasons, these can provide information on movements, reproduction and even how many there are.  Photographs can also be used to examine the health of animals and evidence of interactions with ships or fishing gear.

The POWER cruises also work to address wider objectives, for example collecting data on marine debris.

To read a blog by one of the scientists on the 2017 cruise, click here.

To read the report of the planning meeting for the 2017 cruise, the first to include an acoustic component to the survey programme courtesy of the USA, Click Here

To read cruise reports from previous years:

2016 - Click Here

2015 - Click Here

2014 - Click Here

2013 - Click Here

2012 -  Click Here

2011 - Click Here

2010 - Click Here

Click here to be taken to the POWER image gallery.