Brand Snapshot | Cookson Adventures makes pioneering research into rare species of killer whale possible

A team of scientist’s ground-breaking research into a new type of killer whale has been made possible by Cookson Adventures. The luxury travel company coordinated for their explorer to solely fund this project as part of their adventure to the Antarctic Peninsula, where the client met with the scientists.

After a week lying at anchor off the coast of southern Chile, the team of scientists finally took advantage of a break in stormy weather to embark on this historic research cruise. Led by whale scientist Dr. Robert Pitman, a group of killer whale experts has set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina, to collect evidence of a new species of killer whale living in the Southern Ocean. This journey of discovery has been brought to life via an anonymous donor through Cookson Adventures, a luxury experiential travel company.

The project has been almost 15 years in the making, with Dr. Pitman vying to gather specific data since 2005, when he was shown photos of ‘strange-looking’ killer whales at a workshop in Seattle, Washington. The whales, which had a more rounded head, a longer, pointier dorsal fin, and a tiny white eye patch that was much smaller than that of ‘regular’ killer whales, had been sighted as far back as 1955, when a group of similar whales was stranded on the coast of Paraparaumu, New Zealand.

In 2010, after years of research and data collection – and six further sightings of the whales – Dr. Pitman and colleagues published a paper in the scientific journal Polar Biology describing this new type of killer whale.
Since then, a dedicated effort to distinguish the Type D has been impossible due to lack of funding and the difficulty of navigating the Southern Ocean, where some of the world’s most tempestuous seas can be found in the notoriously-named latitudes of the ‘Roaring 40s’ and the ‘Furious 50s’. But support from an anonymous donor through Cookson Adventures has finally launched the project, in collaboration with the Centro de Conservación Cetacea, Chile.

Thanks to this generous donation from the Cookson Adventures client, the team has chartered the dedicated research vessel, Australis, and set sail. It has now collected skin samples (tiny, pencil eraser-sized bits of skin harmlessly taken with a crossbow dart), the study of which will confirm the whales’ genetic distinction from other species. Tagging of individual whales will also provide the team with data on movement patterns and diving capabilities. Unravelling the secrets of Type D killer whales, one of the least known large animals left on the planet, now moves from the blustery Southern Ocean to the lab.
Dr. Robert Pitman said, “These samples hold the key to determining whether Type D represents a distinct species of killer whale.”

Henry Cookson, who founded Cookson Adventures following a 2007 expedition to Antarctica added, “Given a life-long passion for the Antarctic Continent, we are proud to be in a position to assist with getting this long-awaited project off the ground. Our explorers at Cookson Adventures are passionate about conservation and often eager to meaningfully contribution to the preservation of the places they are privileged to visit. It is at the core of the Cookson Adventures ethos to support worthwhile causes the world over, and this is an incredible opportunity to be part of truly pioneering research.”

Cookson Adventures has put conservation at the heart of its experiences for many years and been the catalyst for its clientele, some of the world’s most influential and successful people, donating millions of pounds to worthwhile causes over the years. From crucial work carried out in the Galápagos Islands, rehoming 250 juvenile tortoises in locations they have been absent from for over 200 years, to funding rhino rehabilitation in one of Kenya’s most important conservancies, its clients engage in philanthropic activities across the globe.

The scientific party of this latest conservation effort is comprised of a team of world-leading experts in a range of disciplines, including whale acoustics, bioecology, marine research, tagging and surveying. It is led by Dr Robert Pitman (USA), a marine ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), whose expertise spans 40 years, working in each of the world’s oceans. Supporting him is Lisa Ballance (USA), Director of the NOAA Marine Mammal and Turtle Research Division with a special interest in species diversity patterns, John Totterdell (Australia), a killer whale researcher and the Founder of the Western Australia Cetacean Research Centre, Jared Towers (Canada), who manages the Killer Whale population monitoring programmes for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and bioacoustician Bec Wellard (Australia), who has recently completed a PhD in killer whales at Curtin University, Western Australia. Mariano Sironi, from Argentina, completes the team as the local collaborator and an expert in right whales.

For more information, contact Cookson Adventures through its website or on: info@cooksonadventures.com.