Saoirse in Puerto Eden
Saoirse in Puerto Eden. Photo by Gaston Herrera.

Once again, Saoirse is headed north to the Golfo de Penas region of Chile in pursuit of knowledge.  Last year, two months were spent aboard our sailing research vessel Saoirse with teams of scientists, studying the 2015 death of more than 300 whales. The results of the scientific studies are contained in a paper now in peer review.

After all these months of studying the tragedy of the whale mortality, we are now turning our attention toward the living whale populations of the Golfo de Penas. We have been preparing Saoirse for many weeks in the remote Chilean village of Puerto Eden and this Monday our team from Chile, Canada and Spain arrived on the Navimag ferry from Puerto Montt.  Three days of storm gave us time for packing and gear testing before we finally threw off the shorelines and got underway.

Saoirse is right this moment, safely tied into a small hurricane hole on Isla Juan Stuven, just 10 nautical miles from the entrance to the Golfo de Penas.   Tomorrow morning’s weather forecast will determine weather we attempt the twelve hour crossing over to the Golfo Tres Montes where the bulk of this years studies will begin.

Joining us on board for this new whale study project is another great team of young scientists and crew, all coming together thanks to the efforts of Dr. Vreni Häussermann from Huinay Foundation, who is coordinating the continuation of the scientific studies.
Michael Kean, a biologist, sailor and experienced expedition member on previous sperm whale study voyages, is bringing aboard a wealth of knowledge and skills–  Not to mention an icListen hydrophone from Ocean Sonics in Canada!   This hydrophone has been generously lent to us for a new study project we are initiating this season; documenting and cataloguing the local populations of sei and orca whales.

Michael also organized the loan of a Deep Trekker ROV (DTG2), another piece of essential equipment which will soon be looking for whale carcasses on the bottom of the main fjords and bays where the documented majority of the whales died in 2015.   Just this evening the DTG2 was on a test drive here in our anchorage in Caleta Fatal, checking out the bottom of our bay and the bottom of our sailboat.  The bay looked much cleaner than our hull!

Joining us from the Meri Foundation of Chile, is Sonia Español Jiménez, a marine biologist and acoustician.  Sonia is at this moment working with Michael to calibrate the ST200 sound trap, graciously lent to our expedition by Dr. Robin Cristofari and Dr. Daniel Zitterbart.  The plan is to deploy this hydrophone at the entrance to one of the main fjords where many of the whales died to try to determine presence or absence of whales at the entrances and inside the fjords; another study beginning this year.
Sebastian Duran Torres an oceanographer from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso is aboard with the CTD, (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth), a large instrument that is deployed off the bow of Saoirse and will be lowered to depths of up to 150 metres, measuring temperature, salinity and oxygen content of the ocean depths.  We will be launching the CTD throughout the voyage across the Golfo de Penas and throughout the Golfo Tres Montes, pinpointing previous launch sites as part of a continuing study project.


Cristian Suárez, licensed veterinarian from the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, is aboard with all his equipment and protocols in the event that we find new whale corpses during our voyage.   Cristian is very experienced in whale necropsies, perhaps one of the most important skills needed on these expeditions as it is with the data derived from the samples taken from the whale remains, that the cause of death can be determined.

Gaston Herrera joins us as our drone pilot.  Last year, our drone pilot Ollie Darwin proved the value of drone footage as a means of documenting the whale deaths and as a possible study tool for live whales.  Gaston has already had a number of successful test flights, though his new Phantom 4 drone did have a close call on the first official expedition flight in Puerto Eden when it was unceremoniously baptized by a male dog!   Luckily, the drone survived the drenching and is functioning as noted in the photo accompanying this blog.

And Greg and I, also part of the team, are once again in full expedition mode, here to get Saoirse to where we need to be to get the job done.  Our fingers are crossed that this year our voyages will bring us into contact with mysterious lives of the sei whale, rather than just the mystery of the deaths of too many whales of years past.

Keri Pashuk

May 6, 2017
Caleta Fatal
Canal Pluddermann
Patagonia, Chile

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