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The IWC-POWER research cruises are an important component of the IWC’s scientific research, 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 focus of the programme is 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 has so-far run for more than 10 years. Detecting trends in numbers of long-lived animals such as whales takes considerable time.  The ultimate objective is to provide information which will allow scientists to determine the status of populations of 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 IWC-POWER programme. 

The programme began in 2010.  The research cruises already completed have covered more than 30,000 nautical miles.  Nine great whale species have been sighted, as well as many species of small cetacean, and over 400 biopsy samples taken. 

Collaboration is fundamental to the success of the programme.  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, Russia, Mexico and the UK have participated in the fieldwork. Scientists from Australia and a number of European countries are also involved as members of a specialist IWC-POWER steering group.

The duration of each cruise ranges from 60-85 days.  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 determine what species of whales and dolphins are present, where they are found, and estimate how many of each species there are.  For many species, photographs are also used to identify individuals and gain a variety of information including on movements, reproduction. Photographs can also provide information on the health of animals and evidence of interactions with ships or fishing gear.

Biopsy samples and acoustic recordings from sonobuoys are additional tools used by the scientists.  The biopsy samples 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 information on their reproductive state. 

Researchers have been able to deploy sonobuoys since 2017 and have accumulated over 1500 hours of recordings from nearly 500 sonobuoys so far.  These recordings detect which species are present in which locations, and enable researchers to focus their efforts more precisely.

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

Read the IWC-POWER Programme Guide for Researchers

To read cruise reports from previous years:

  • To read a blog by one of the scientists on the 2017 cruise, click here.
  • Click here to be taken to the POWER image gallery.