University of St Andrews
The University of St Andrews are chief project partners on the Whale:SWIM project. The analysis of skin samples collected by the project, for (1) genetic analysis of diversity and connectivity, and (2) measuring whale hormone and stress levels will all be conducted there. Dr Emma Carroll will carry out the genetic work in her laboratory within the School of Biology. Professor Ailsa Hall (@_SMRU_) will oversee the hormone analysis, which will help us to understand whale stress levels and pregnancy rates.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Our collaborator Dr Michael Moore at Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has a long-standing interest in the use of drones to measure whale body condition and health, and has been pioneering efforts to study this in the Critically Endangered North Atlantic right whale. With colleagues Dr Amy Apprill (@AmyApprill) and her post-doctoral researcher Dr Carolyn Miller, WHOI have supplied us with the kit and protocols to safely collect whale blow samples at sea, which will be shipped to WHOI at the end of the season. Amy and Carolyn will then carry out microbiome analysis of the blow samples, using massive quantities of DNA sequencing to identify the strains of bacteria that are present in the whales, and do a check up on whale health. Michael will analyse the aerial images and body condition measurements gathered for each whale, to compare whale fatness and body condition with data collected from other right whale calving and feeding sites worldwide.
Instituto Aqualie are a non-profit organisation based in Brazil which develop marine projects focussed on biodiversity conservation, and have been pioneering the development of satellite tagging technology to study whales for the past 15 years. We will be joined on our cruise by Instituto Aqualie Vice-President Professor Artur Andriolo. Artur and Instituto Aqualie President Dr Alexandre Zerbini have been tracking the migratory movements of humpback whales from Brazil for over 15 years, revealing seasonal whale movements between Brazil and summer feeding areas to the east of South Georgia.
Alex has also been tracking the short and long-range movements of southern right whales towards the high latitudes from their calving areas at Península Valdés since 2013, in a project led by the Wildlife Conservation Society to try to understand whale habitat use in relation to the high right whale mortalities seen at Península Valdés. Alex has been at the forefront of satellite tag testing and development with a focus on maximising tag safety and animal welfare. His advice and assistance throughout the cruise development phase has been vital and Alex will be leading the team analysing and interpreting the satellite tracking data we gather in the field.
Australian Antarctic Division
Our collaboration with the AAD’s acoustic expert Dr Brian Miller, including loans of their bespoke equipment and scientific advice, has been instrumental in enabling us to build this part of our project. Acoustic work at sea will be coordinated by Russell Leaper and Susie Calderan who have significant experience with this new technique.
Happywhale is a web-based marine mammal photo-ID citizen science platform which has been online since August 2015. As of November 2017, they have received submissions of over 65,000 images contributed by over 1,000 scientists and citizen scientists. The goals of Happywhale are to engage citizen scientists and to generate high quality, low cost photo-ID data and web-based tools for accurate matching of images (i.e. to identify resightings of the same whale).
Happywhale founder Ted Cheeseman is advising the Whale:SWIM project. A former Executive Committee Chair of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, he runs his own Antarctic whale tour company and is very well connected within the tourist industry. With Ted’s assistance we are reaching out to all those taking southern right whale photos in the region and asking them to submit their photos to Happywhale, where we will match them with photos taken on our upcoming expedition.
The goal of Ocean Alliance is to increase public awareness of the importance of ocean and whale health through research and education. They work with various partner organisations to collect a broad spectrum of data on whales and ocean life. In Argentina, they represent the Península Valdés right whale locally and nationally, and internationally through scientific contributions to committees such as the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee.
Ocean Alliance’s 45-year study of the population of right whales that uses the bays of Península Valdés as a calving ground is the world’s longest continuous study of a large whale species based on following the lives of known individuals. Along with their sister group in Argentina (the Instituto de Conservacion de Ballenas) they are now following the lives of more than 3,085 known individuals (77% of the current population estimate).
Professor Vicky Rowntree is Director of the Right Whale Program for Ocean Alliance and has conducted numerous studies into the population biology and health of right whales using Península Valdés waters. She is collaborating with the Whale:SWIM project as an advisor and will be conducting a comparison of the photo-identifications gathered in the waters off South Georgia with the Península Valdés right whale photo-ID catalogue, which contains more than 3,085 identified right whales.
Projeto Baleia Franca
Projeto Baleia Franca has been running since 1982 and has two main goals: research and monitoring of the recovering right whale population off the coast of Brazil, and building up awareness of right whales and their conservation needs in Brazil, through educational and outreach programs. Projeto Baleia Franca have been conducting aerial monitoring of right whales since 1986. Dr Karina Groch is the Research Director of Projeto Baleia Franca. She will be collaborating with the Whale:SWIM project and assisting with a comparison of photo-identifications gathered in the waters off South Georgia with the Projeto Baleia Franca photo-ID catalogue, which numbers over 800 individual whales.
Steph Martin (@sailorsteph2) is a marine biologist and naturalist with many years of experience leading tourist expeditions in South Georgia waters in her role as Expedition Leader for Lindblad Expeditions. As part of her work she has frequently supported research activities including collecting photo-identifications and skin samples from whales. Prior to her current work she conducted field research on North Atlantic right whales. Steph is advising on cruise planning and research activities for the Whale:SWIM project.
Dr Luciano Valenzuela is a research fellow at CONICET (Argentine Research Council) working in the Laboratorio de Ecologia Evolutiva Humana at the Quequén campus of the Universidad Nacional del Centro, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales. His research relates to using stable isotopes in a wide range of ecological and anthropological studies. During his PhD studies at the University of Utah he worked on the population ecology of southern right whales off Patagonia, Argentina, including isotope studies to understand the feeding patterns of right whales associated with Península Valdés. Luciano is also an associate with the Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas. He is advising the Whale:SWIM project with a particular focus on the analysis and interpretation of isotope data gathered during the South Georgia study.
Professor David Pond is a biochemist who specialises in the analysis of lipid biomarkers in marine ecosystems in order to understand how marine ecosystems function. He is based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science. His role in the Whale:SWIM project will be to conduct fatty acid analysis of skin samples collected on the voyage for comparison with local zooplankton and to help identify what the whales are feeding on in South Georgia waters.