Hurtigruten has confirmed its partnership with the California Ocean Alliance (COA), a research, conservation, and education organization, as part of a programme to better understand and protect whales and other marine mammals in Antarctica.

A pilot between the two was launched in late 2019 and subsequently paused due to the pandemic. As Hurtigruten restarts its 2021/22 Antarctica season, scientists from the California Ocean Alliance will join several sailings on MS Roald Amundsen, the world’s first hybrid electric-powered expedition cruise ship.

The COA team will monitor the soundscape in the region and the influence of human presence on it. They will also research how different whales behave near humans, which will allow Hurtigruten and other cruise lines to adapt where necessary to ensure they minimise any interference with the creatures.

“Our research will be some of the most challenging we have ever conducted, in one of the most difficult parts of the world. So to have a partner like Hurtigruten that supports us is a huge gift to us. With this research, we can create programs that are tailored so guests can have close encounters with whales while ensuring minimal impact on the different whale populations in Antarctica,” said Dr. Ari Friedlaender, Associate Researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Director of Research for California Ocean Alliance.

“Ninety percent of the oceans remain unexplored. We are determined to change that by creating a deeper understanding of the areas we explore. The data collected during our research partnership with California Ocean Alliance, and the many others we carry out with other partners, will be used for executive decision making on future environmental issues, so it is a win-win for all of us,” said Hurtigruten Expeditions CEO Asta Lassesen

Guests always have access to scientists onboard all Hurtigruten Expeditions cruises. All Hurtigruten Expeditions ships feature a state-of-the-art science center, overseen by the cruise industry’s only Chief Scientist, Dr Verena Meraldi.

“Ambient sound research has not been properly conducted in Antarctica before, so we are incredibly enthusiastic about this partnership and that we have the right tools for the scientist to carry out their research by already offering the quietest ships in Antarctica. We hope this will be a long-term partnership that will benefit all parties, but most importantly, the Antarctic whale and wildlife populations,” said Dr. Meraldi, Chief Scientist, Hurtigruten Expeditions.

The team from California Ocean Alliance will work alongside Hurtigruten’s expedition teams to provide unique educational opportunities for passengers through lectures, demonstrations, and real-time analysis of scientific data. As part of the research, the scientists will also collect skin and blubber biopsy samples from whales to evaluate individual animal health, population growth rates, and stress levels.

“Our scientists will also share their findings with the guests onboard, allowing them to partake in real-time science, and during our presentations, they will educate as we go, which will be a truly unique experience,” added Dr. Friedlaender.

California Ocean Alliance’s scientists will be onboard the MS Roald Amundsen sailings departing 11 January, 27 January, and 12 February 2022.