Main Navigation

Local researchers drive southern right whale project

In the spring southern right whales congregate in the protected bays created by Península Valdés to calve and raise their young. The distinct growths on their heads called callosities provide a tool for researchers to follow a whale throughout their life.

Read the piece about the J. Willard Marriott Library’s digitization of the southern right whale data that this sidebar is written to accompany here

At its core, the southern right whale project is a labor of love from local students.

“Vicki saw early on that these wonderful young college-age volunteers who would show up to work for a few weeks should be raising their sights and thinking about coming to North America or Europe for their Ph.D.s,” said Jon Segar, Victoria Rowntree’s husband and an emeritus professor of biological sciences at the U.

Over the past few decades, five Argentinian researchers traveled to the United States to get their doctorates on different aspects of right whale biology—two of them at the U. Now all of the researchers are professors in different Argentine universities. They and their volunteers and students have become the primary assistants in analyzing the annual aerial surveys.

The involvement and education of local students are crucial for the longevity of the project. 

“They’re the ones that can affect the conservation of the right whales,” Rowntree said.

In addition to keeping the research project running, these young advocates are representing their population at International Whaling Commission meetings and influencing policy changes that will save whales. 

Rowntree, with help from Seger, has established a nonprofit to keep the project going. Instituto de Conservacion de Ballenas is dedicated to research and education about right whales. The foundation collects money from various grants to continue performing aerial surveys each year.