Groundbreaking research on the Southern Right Whales was conducted in Patagonia by the famous scientist named Roger Payne. We visited the research station which is located on a remote beach on a stretch of land owned by the Argentinian Navy. Roger Payne was not the least of whale researchers. Roger discovered in 1967 that humpback whales actually sing and played an important role in ending commercial whaling. Roger pioneered the research that now is continued by Mariano Sironi and other scientists.
The research station still contains many of Rogers belongings. It was amazing to see with how much care Mariano handled the belongings of the family Payne, as if they could return any time. For us it was great to have a look into whale research history. The original catalog in which the very first identified whale was recorded, took us right back to 1967.
Genetics research has also reached this remotely located research station although some logistical issues had to be overcome. The research team showed us the steel container which was filled with liquid nitrogen and was holding the samples they had collected. Fun fact: the little packages in which the whaleskin/blubber are stored, are actually created from an ordinary panty hose!
The catalog also contained small B&W images of right whale heads, which were (and still are) used to identify whales. Nowadays the matching is done using software, but imagine how that must have been in the old days! The white patches on the top and sides of the heads of right whales are used to identify individual whales. These patches are formed by small crustaceans called ciamids (aka whale lice) that stick to calluses. The density of the colony of these animals is imense and only visible from close range. Apparently there are three types of Ciamids which vary in color. On adult whales you will find the white ciamids, but on dying or injured whales as well as on young calfs orange ciamids are found (check out one of the photos in the portfolio above). Ciamids have never been found elsewhere so are assumed to exclusively live on whales for the duration of their lives.
One of the most special things we observed during our stay were two almost completely white calfs and their mothers in the Golfo Nuevo. The two white calfs belong to a special few calfs that are born each year in Patagonia. The calfs are actually partial albino's, meaning that they will not stay white all of their lives. The calves have a shortage of pigmentation, but mostly turn grey (sometimes even black) already in their first year. It literally was a dream come true to photograph this special "freak" of nature...
All images have been taken under permit of the government of the province of Chubut.
Images of this portfolio have been featured in an article of the August 2018 edition of Duiken magazine.