What can you expect on an Antarctic expedition with whale experts from WWF Australia

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to explore Antarctica with a team of whale experts? We have. That is why we have entered into a collaboration with WWF-Australia to run two ground-breaking expeditions to the ends of the earth.

Imagine crossing the Antarctic Circle with a team of researchers from the World Wildlife Fund – Australia. These experts are the icing on the cake (pun intended) when it comes to immersing you in a real Antarctic experience; they can help you identify whales and impress you with facts, all while conducting vital research into these incredible giants of the sea.

We sat down with Chris Johnson, WWF’s Global Lead for Protecting Dolphins and Whales, to share what you can expect from this a once in a lifetime expedition.

What kinds of things will people see on this expedition?

Antarctica is epic. It is the largest wilderness on Earth with over 9,000 marine species – and even more are discovered every year.

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current runs clockwise from west to east around the continent and runs parallel north up the western peninsula. This means its icy waters are highly productive and teem with wildlife, from humpback whales to penguins and seals, which feed on huge swarms of their prey – krill. It is truly a sight to behold.

We will see a number of species such as humpback whales, Antarctic minke whales and killer whales. Humpback whales make an annual migration to Antarctica, which is essential to feed on krill, rest and add the necessary energy stores to sustain them for their next journey to their tropical breeding grounds. But we can see other species if we are lucky, such as Antarctic blue whales (the largest animal on Earth), sperm whales, southern right whales and fin whales.

We will also see a variety of other wildlife such as adélie, gentoo and chinstrap seals, a wide range of seabirds and a number of seals such as leopard, weddell and crabeater seals.

At the end of each day, the research team will share updates on our fieldwork and encounters with whales, do in-depth TED-style talks, and share video footage from our drone and tag work.

Tell us a little about WWF’s whale conservation work in Antarctica.

WWF has been working with partners to conserve whales for over 50 years. Whales are awe-inspiring yet challenging to study in the open ocean. Because of this, their distribution and critical marine habitats – areas where they feed, mate, give birth, care for young, socialize or migrate for their survival – are still being discovered. That is why we have invested in innovative techniques to better understand the lives of our ocean giants.

New technologies allow us to study whales and the sea in new ways. In recent years, WWF has supported field work such as the use of digital tags and drones to better understand how and where whales feed to uncover their favorite hotspots. It gives us a window into their world to understand population health, how they are affected by climate change, and how we can protect their critical marine habitats worldwide.

Why is whale conservation such an important job?

Growing evidence shows that whales are vital to a healthy ocean and planet, so we need these animals to recover and thrive.

During their migrations, whales fertilize the marine ecosystems they move through and support the marine life that inhabits them. Their faecal plumes increase phytoplankton production, which captures about 40 percent of all carbon dioxide produced and generates over half of the atmosphere’s oxygen. When they die, whales sink to the ocean floor, taking huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. In total, one whale captures the same amount of carbon during its lifetime as thousands of trees.

This means that by restoring whale populations, we can help restore marine ecosystems and mitigate and build resilience to climate change. It helps nature help itself and all of us who depend on it.

There has been a lot of talk lately about whether travelers should even go to Antarctica. What are your thoughts on it?

Antarctica is the only place on the planet set aside as a reserve for ‘peace and science’. No country owns it and we must all work together to preserve it.

Collaboration is the spirit of Antarctic science, and it is the most effective way to achieve impact. Across WWF, we have worked with a number of research teams including the University of California Santa Cruz, the British Antarctic Survey, the Australian Antarctic Division, Duke University and other partners such as tourism operators such as Intrepid Travel to help access key field sites while sharing science in action with tourists.

Working with partners, we bring this important knowledge to policy makers to protect 30 percent of the oceans around Antarctica by 2030, creating a safety net for wildlife.

Over the past 20 years I have studied and documented whale populations around the world and the high seas. However, there is nothing quite like working among the Antarctic giants while surrounded by mountains rising from the sea and navigating colorful icebergs of all shapes and sizes along the peninsula. The scale of nature here is overwhelming and inspiring.

Antarctic travel is an opportunity to share this very special place with the public – and it inspires those lucky enough to visit.

See the Great White Continent for yourself with WWF Australia’s experts at Intrepid’s WWF Giants of Antarctica and WWF travel to the Antarctic Circle and fight trips.

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