Expedition News
May 2010 – Volume Seventeen, Number Five

EXPEDITION NEWS, now in its 17th year, is the monthly review of significant expeditions, research projects and newsworthy adventures. It is distributed online to media representatives, corporate sponsors, educators, research librarians, explorers, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts. This forum on exploration covers projects that stimulate, motivate and educate.


Blue whales are endangered globally and right whales are the most endangered large cetaceans in the North Atlantic. There is, however, a striking lack of knowledge for both species, concerning their distribution, dispersal, and populations in the productive waters of the Flemish Cap, Grand Banks and eastern Scotian shelf areas off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Richard Sears and Scott Kraus have launched the New England Aquarium Right Whale Project to study the whales this summer, using a photo identification system similar to fingerprinting humans.

To track the movements of whales, researchers will study the unique mottled pigmentation on blue whales, and for right whales, the patterns over the eyes that are as individualized as fingerprints are to humans. Then images are compared to "mug" shots taken previously, helping to identify individual whales in the wild, estimate the size of populations, determine dispersal, distribution, and migratory patterns, and estimate age.

Sears, 58, founder of the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), believes it’s vital to survey and collect data from little-studied offshore regions because blue and right whales act as prime sentinels of marine ecosystem changes, and reflect such changes over wide areas of oceans and over long time periods.

MICS is a U.S. and Canadian non-profit research organization dedicated to ecological studies of marine mammals. Founded in 1979, it was the first organization to carry out extensive research of cetaceans in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and is best known for pioneering long-term studies of the endangered blue whale. By contributing to raise the current state of knowledge about cetaceans, MICS data is used to determine species population status, and how to implement protective regulation and design recovery plans.

Sears, who resides in Montreal, says this will be the first dedicated offshore shelf edge survey for marine mammals – let alone blue and right whales – ever conducted in the Flemish Cap, site of the fabled "Perfect Storm." He explains, "It will greatly add to our knowledge of two of the most endangered species on the planet."

MICS’ multi-disciplinary field studies, based on a 165-ft. yacht carrying 22 crew and two rubber inflatables, will combine research techniques, such as photo-identification, biopsy darting (for genetic and toxic studies), acoustics tracking, and satellite tagging in conjunction with detailed behavioral field observations. The expedition has raised $110,000 out of a projected budget of $175,000, in part due to support from the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the SEDNA Foundation, New England Aquarium and the French shipping company CMA CGM. The group is seeking additional sponsors to climb on board. (For more information: (+1) 450-465-9176,,

Expedition recreates Bounty survival-at-sea saga

Four adventurers set sail late last month in an open boat from Tonga in a bid to re-enact the epic 4,400-mile (7,081 km) survival voyage of Captain William Bligh of HMS Bounty fame when he was cast adrift by mutineers in 1789. Bligh, widely acknowledged as an expert seaman, sailed a 45-ft. open longboat with 18 crew from near Tonga to West Timor in 48 days, surviving partly by catching fish and seabirds, and drinking rainwater.

The feat – achieved without charts or compass – has been portrayed in novels, poems and in several Mutiny on the Bounty films starring Hollywood luminaries such as Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Charles Laughton, and Anthony Hopkins.

According to the Associated Press, the new expedition is sailing in a 25-ft. open deck boat, the Talisker Bounty, which sports two small sails. The team expects to take seven weeks to cover the distance.

Led by Australian Don McIntyre, the expedition includes experienced Antarctic sailor David Bryce from Australia, Hong Kong businessman David Wilkinson, and 18-year-old Briton Christopher Wilde. McIntyre said the group is trying to get close to what Bligh encountered by taking with them only what he had on board in 1789. While Captain Bligh took rum with him, bottles of Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky is going along for the ride, to be auctioned off for charity at the conclusion of the project. Lucky for them, Talisker is an expedition sponsor. (For more information:


Change of Plans: Hillary’s Ashes Won’t be Spread – The ashes of Sir Edmund Hillary will be kept at a memorial near the mountain and will not be scattered on the peak as he had desired, a Sherpa official said last month (see EN, April 2010) Hillary, who climbed Everest in 1953 along with Nepal’s Tenzing Norgay Sherpa (see related story), died in 2008 at the age of 88 in New Zealand. He had wished that his ashes be scattered on the world’s highest mountain and over Auckland’s harbor. A Nepali Sherpa climber, Apa Sherpa, who holds the record for the most successful Everest ascents, was to scatter Hillary’s ashes, which have lain in a monastery in the area, this month.

But Ang Tenzing Sherpa, chief of Sherpa citizens’ group Khumbu Civil Society, said scattering the ashes on the mountain, considered God by the Sherpa community, would be against their culture and tradition. He said the ashes will be kept at a memorial during the golden jubilee of the first school Hillary opened in Khumjung next year.


W. L. Gore & Associates Awards $20,000 – Explorers and adventurers will receive grants totaling $20,000 through the Gore-Tex Brand Shipton-Tilman Grant program announced this month. The annual program was established by Gore in 1990 as a tribute to the spirit of adventure embodied by legendary explorers Eric Shipton (b. 1907) and Bill Tilman (b. 1897) Now in its 20th year, the program provides funds to be divided among expeditions that are most in harmony with Shipton and Tilman's philosophies.

The following six teams receiving grants in 2010: