BLOG POST 6 – September 30, 2013, Whale Camp, in Patagonia

Today is the last day of this year’s field research season with the southern right whales of Península Valdés. I am alone at Whale Camp, and I write this in the candlelight. Although spring is here, it is still cold and windy, and we have not seen the sun in several days.

Aerial survey team in 2013The research season was a success. John Atkinson, Marcos Ricciardi and I completed the 43rd right whale photo-identification survey with a record number of whales seen: 729, most of which were mothers with their newborn calves. Vicky Rowntree collected many hours of behavioral data to analyze the whales’ respiration frequency and body condition.

 

With the help of the wonderful research assistants and volunteers Florencia Vilches, Mariana Lanfiutti, Magalí Olmedo and Soledad Martínez, we monitored the frequency of gull attacks on the whales at two sites of the peninsula. We have monitored this behavior since 1995. In cooperation with the Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, we studied every whale that died in this calving ground to analyze the population’s health status.Gull attacks - Photo by Mariano Sironi -

 We were actively involved in education and conservation activities as well. The Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas’ brand-new southern right whale educational exhibit at the local museum in Puerto Madryn has already received many wonderful comments. On National Whale Day I gave a talk for the whalewatch captains and tour guides in Puerto Pirámides. After two and a half hours of “whale-talk,” we continued to talk about whales over dinner until midnight! We had technical meetings with wildlife management officials from the National and Provincial governments, and with research colleagues from other institutions.

 We are grateful to the many government and non-goverment institutions, research colleagues, companies and friends who have made this field research season possible. Without their support and help, I wouldn’t be here. Thank you!

 Right Whale Breach - Photo by Mariano SironiAs I write this, I hear the blows of the whales in the darkness in this cloudy, moonless night. I opened this blog post saying “I am alone at Whale Camp”. Well… no, I am not. The whales are out there, and they are a magnificent company. In fact, perhaps I met some of the whales that are sleeping in this bay tonight when I first came to study them in 1995… which means that I have known them for almost two decades.

So, no, I am not alone. I am blessed with their friendship and I hope I can share some of this friendship with you all.

 Cordialmente, desde Península Valdés en Argentina,

 Mariano Sironi, Scientific Director of the Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas