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Annual IWC-POWER Cruise sets sail from Alaska

The 8th international research cruise in the IWC-POWER series has embarked from Dutch Harbour, Alaska.   This is the latest stage in a long-term programme to determine the status of populations of the large whales found in North Pacific Waters, some of which have not been surveyed for several decades.

This year's cruise will cover the eastern Bering Sea and aims to provide essential information, enabling scientists to understand whether conservation threats exist for particular species and locations and if so, what measures might address these threats and how could their effectiveness of be assessed.

The research vessel, Yushin Maru No. 2, is provided by the Government of Japan, and the long-term scientific programme has been designed and approved by the IWC’s Scientific Committee and its 88 member governments. For the first time, there will be an acoustic component to the research programme. This has been made possible by the provision of equipment by the USA. The acoustic survey will be undertaken by a scientist from their National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Marine Mammal Laboratory (Alaska Fisheries Science Center/NOAA Fisheries) in Seattle.  NOAA is a collaborating partner on this survey.

International collaboration is crucial to the programme and this year's cruise will include scientists from Japan, the USA and the UK. The cruise will provide essential information including:

  • for the ongoing IWC assessments of North Pacific sei, humpback and gray whales in terms of abundance, distribution and stock structure.

  • on the critically endangered North Pacific right whale population in the eastern Pacific.

  • completion of survey coverage of the northern range of fin whales (begun during IWC-POWER cruises in 2010-12).

In addition to recording all marine mammal sightings, the cruise will employ photo-identification methods to identify individual whales.  Small biopsy samples will also be taken for genetic and other analyses.  The cruise represents a unique opportunity to study right whales, which are estimated to number only in the tens of animals in the eastern North Pacific and are a high priority species for both the IWC and NOAA.

Results of the study will be presented at the next Annual Meeting of the IWC Scientific Committee in April-May 2017.

To read a blog by one of the scientists on this year's cruise, click here.

Click here to be taken to the IWC-POWER image gallery.