My recent travels took me to Patagonia, Chile to Chiloé, the largest island in the Chiloé Archipelago. My goal is to produce a documentary about an aspiring young girl interested in discovering the largest mammal on Earth, the blue whale. Currently I am editing all the footage taken during my trip. I hope to convey the importance of girls in science and women in conservation leadership roles, specifically to protect whales and their ocean homes.
We departed Maui late at night and after 3 long flights we arrived at Santiago, the capital of Chile. A relatively short 1.5 hour connecting flight to the province of Puerto Mont, followed by a 60 km car ride to Pargua, followed by a 30 minute ferry crossing of the Chacao Channel to Chiloé. We finally arrived to the principal town of Ancud to pick up supplies. Paved roads turned into gravel and cell phone signals quickly began to fade. It was a pathway into the past, a place without time.
Our final destination was Punihuil, a small community on the west coast of Chiloé. Punihuil is a isolated, but popular, tourist destination famous for its offshore penguin colonies. It is the only place in the world where you see the Humboldt and the Magellanic penguins coexisting and nesting side by side.
The local people conveyed genuine heritage and their way of life seemed untouched. The fishermen and residents of Chiloé still speak a Spanish marked with archaic expressions. The landscape was vibrant and alive. The air was pure and slightly scented with the cool of the arctic. The coast was marked with jagged cliffs and fog would often cover the remarkable scenery disappear into the mystic.
We met with our featured researchers for the documentary: Elsa Cabrera, Executive Director of the Cetacean Conservation Center, and Barbara Galletti Project Manager of Blue and Sei Whales. Elsa and Barbara have conducted research on blue, humpback and right whales in the area for over 12 years. They were keen to take us out on their research boat to search for blue whales. Pacific Whale Foundation has long supported their research to better understand these magnificent and rare whales.
Blue whales arrive off Chiloé during the austral summer months to feed on krill. Little is known about their migration patterns or where they breed. The Chilean government has protected nearly 90,000 marine hectares in order to preserve this fragile ecosystem from over-fishing and destruction.
Nonetheless, marine life in this region faces many threats including pollution, marine debris, and unregulated salmon farming. Proposed wind farms, which are otherwise sustainable, could prove to be detrimental to the local marine environment and negatively impact the whale’s prey.
The researchers have identified nearly 700 pygmy blue whales off Chiloé. Pygmy blues whales look like ‘True’ or Antarctic Blue whales, only smaller — a mere 90 feet in length! Nearly 99% of True Blues were killed by whalers and the remaining population is critically endangered. Little is know of the Pygmy Blue, but research has shown they are found off Australia, Latin America and New Zealand.
The research conducted off Chiloé is vital to bring awareness and conserve our delicate environment for future generations to enjoy. The documentary is currently being produced and I hope to share it with PWF members and supporters by the end of April.