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SOWER cruises were conducted annually for over 30 years and provided extensive information on a variety of cetaceans. Commencing in 1978/79 as part of an International Decade of Cetacean Research (IDCR), this programme was organised annually under the auspices of the IWC. For 32 years the cruise programme involved between 1 and 4 ships each year, for a total of 4,112 vessel-days (or 11¼ vessel-years) and covered an estimated 216,000 n.miles in the area south of 60°S. In the process, the Antarctic continent was circumnavigated 3 times and 43,000 sightings of cetaceans were made, including notably 25,333 of minke whales and 400 of blue whales. Estimates of abundance were obtained not only for the Antarctic minke whale, the prime objective of the programme, but also for almost every other cetacean occurring in higher latitudes, including several smaller species that had never been assessed previously.

The first circumpolar survey took place when commercial whaling was still in progress.  2,748 minke whales were tagged with Discovery marks and 95 recovered, including one 24 years later: this continues to be the only source of data on the summer movements of Antarctic minke whales. From the second circumpolar series onwards, some 1,500 biopsies were collected, over 3,000 whales photographed for individual identification and many thousands of hours of acoustic recordings made. The programme also stimulated the development of different approaches to modelling sighting data. Without the generous provision of vessels by the Government of Japan (and initially by the Soviet Union) and the financial and other support of the IWC, the success of this programme would never have been possible. It was truly international in nature, with over 200 scientists from 15 member nations participating.  Cooperative cruises in lower latitudes have been conducted off Australia, Brazil, Chile, Madagascar, Peru and South Africa. All the data collected on these cruises were submitted to the IWC Secretariat and made available through its DESS data base to interested scientists from any member nation.

Although the programme has now come to an end, the IWC Scientific Committee will doubtless continue to mine the wealth of information it has accumulated on southern cetaceans for many years to come.

The most recent cruise took place from December 2008 to February 2009. Detailed information may be found below:

Title Filename
2008/09 IWC-SOWER Cruise Report 2008-2009 Cruise Report.pdf
Guide for researchers Guide  for Researchers 2008-09.pdf
Datasheets Sightings data sheet2008-2009.pdf
Planning meeting report 2008-2009 Planning Report.pdf

Some reports from previous cruises can be found below and this list will be expanded shortly.

Title Filename
2007/08 IWC-SOWER Cruise Report 2007-2008 Cruise Report.pdf
2006/07 IWC-SOWER Cruise Report 2006-2007 Cruise Report.pdf
2005/06 IWC-SOWER Cruise Report 2005-2006 Cruise Report.pdf
2004/05 IWC-SOWER Cruise Report 2004-2005 Cruise Report.pdf