Whale Bones & Ice Bugs

Latest update July 1, 2018 Started on July 1, 2018
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A team heads to natural whale cemetery composed of over 300 sei whale skeletons in a remote area of the Taitao peninsula in Chile. Once enough bones are secured, Explorer Isaí Madriz will set off on his own to the Northern Patagonian Ice Field in search of new insect species.

July 1, 2018
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In The Field

After traveling the entire day, we finally arrive to camp. Although primitive it feels like home. The camp is partly dug into the sand bar separating the river from the mighty and infamous gulf of Penas.


For the past several years, Daniel has built it up with driftwood, sand bags, debris and disposed fishing gear and buoys discarded by fishing vessels navigating the gulf.

It is here where one can find a safe refuge from the elements.

Basecamp

Our tents must be secured against the sting wind gusts using one of the same techniques for camping on heavy snow (dead-man anchor).

With the camp set up, we gather around our small stove to cook the first meal of the expedition. Lepe takes the lead and soon becomes the official chef of the group and what a cook he is. In the upcoming days you will see his array of dishes.

We drink directly from the river and begin to plan the upcoming days. Daniel uses its satellite phone to obtain the weather projections for the next few days. We must update this information regularly as the weather can turn in an instant.

I cannot help myself to wonder off in search of that rare insect I found 10 months ago on a previous expedition where the glaciers vanish. To my surprise, I find the same group of insects, but their overall morphology seems different. Is this the same rare species I found before? Or is this a different species that evolved to emerge at the end of winter to avoid competing with the other I found at the end of last spring? These questions will be answered under the microscope back in my lab as I preform further investigation.

The story continues...

Equipment used for this project is courtesy Iridium, Alpacka Raft, Kokatat, Patagonia, Boo Bicycles, Seal Line, Osprey Packs, Tentsile, Aqua-Bound & Voltaic.

Logistics and transportation provided by : Destino Patagonia

Our gear is too heavy, we must split the weight and take two Zodiacs. The expedition leader (Daniel) takes point. His trusty companion Mauricio (Lepe), drives the second boat. Nico, Iara and I are split among the vessels.


We navigate along the black river (Río Negro). It’s dark waters provide a the perfect reflection of the snow capped mountains and the mighty glacier on the horizon. The beauty of the scenery does not come without risks. The river’s channel is littered with submerged logs and ever-growing vegetation.

Small areas of dead forests lay submerged under the river. Only a few broken stumps remain above water as an indication of the danger below. The cold water delays their cellulose breakdown.

As we cruise above the dead trees, I Cannot help to wonder how long ago did the last canoes of the vanished Kaweskar tribe glided above these submerged forest patches?

Halfway down the river, we encounter the white river (Río Blanco). It’s sediment-rich waters flow directly from the San Quintín Glacier. All the suspended particles caused by glacial erosion create the perfect dichotomy of colors as they collide with the tannin-rich waters of the Río Negro.

An endemic river rodent, the Coipo Myocastor coypus disappear under the milky waters. I cannot help to compare this place to other more familiar areas. Without a doubt, the Chesapeake Bay must have look like this 10,000 years ago.

How long will this area remain as wild as it currently stands?

The story continues...

Equipment used for this project is courtesy Iridium, Alpacka Raft, Kokatat, Patagonia, Boo Bicycles, Seal Line, Osprey Packs, Tentsile, Aqua-Bound & Voltaic.

Logistics and transportation provided by : Destino Patagonia

At the western edge of the San Rafael Lagoon, we begin to offload the gear from the boat. As I near the vessel to help with offloading the gear, I notice the guttural sound of the boat driver as he struggles to lift my bag, “I am glad I am not carrying this!” he said.


We finish preparing the gear and we begin to make our way through the bog. The weight of my bag is sobering. Within the first hundred yards I sink down onto my knees in mud. It will be a long and strenuous hike.

As we travel across, my mind cannot help but envy my companions with their smaller and lighter bags.

At the edge of the forested area, the songs of frogs become increasingly louder as we near the river. There in the open, frogs take advantage of any and every small pool to mate.

We must be careful not to disturb the mating frenzy nor to damage the matts of eggs being laid before our eyes.

I begin to wonder how long throughout time has this mating frenzy been occurring? Are there any predators taking advantage of the easy frog meal? Even more, are there any evolutionary patterns that shows synchronization between this event and the emergence of frog-feeding insects?

With my heavy bag I begin to swing my net in hopes of capturing any insects resting on the nearby vegetation, but with no luck.

Next year I will come back and investigate/record the mating event further.

After a strenuous hike we reached the Zodiac boats.

The story continues …

Equipment used for this project is courtesy Iridium, Alpacka Raft, Kokatat, Patagonia, Boo Bicycles, Seal Line, Osprey Packs, Tentsile, Aqua-Bound & Voltaic.

Logistics and transportation provided by : Destino Patagonia

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Preparation

Isaí just sent me an update - he's finally managed to pack everything he'll be taking to Southern Patagonia. Everything from a Trident ROV to his macro photography equipment!


Tomorrow he departs from Puerto Rio Tranquilo (a 6 hour drive from his home). Then a 1.5 hour drive to Explorers Bay, a 2 hour boat ride to the San Rafael Lagoon, a 1.5 hour hike through swamp, then a 2 hour Zodiac ride to the Forelius Peninsula where the whale cemetery is. On his back he is carrying over 85lbs of gear and less than 5lbs of clothes.

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haha, can he send over his checklist?

haha, can he send over his checklist?

Expedition Background

We will travel via motor boat to a natural whale cemetery composed of over 300 Sei whale skeletons. There, the team will be selecting two complete adult skeletons to bring back to the city of Coyhaique, to articulate in the upcoming months for display in the regional museum.


For the duration of 10 days we will gather all the bones and secure them to the vessel. A task that promises to leave our skin smooth (through the whale oils still impregnated in the bones), while being permeated with the essence of carcass.

Once all bones are secured at the field location the team will take them back to the nearest town of Caleta Tortel about 150 miles away.

Even in the tail end of winter, Isaí will also be targeting the aquatic larva of some groups while looking for the exceedingly rare adults of the winter-going insect groups.

In early September, a second expedition transporting a group of whale researchers will return to a nearby area to study live whales that inhabit the gulf of Penas.

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Enjoy reading your post. Please keep up the good work.
I'm starting a project in Vietnam, which may very similar to your project (not listed in my Open Explorer profile). Here we have ton of cetacean bones stored inside man-made cetacean semataries. I really hope that we can catalogue them to improve our knowledge on cetacean in Vietnam. I will look up for your project to learn experiences.

What an interesting task. I'm curious to know how you can be sure you have all the bones for a single skeleton?

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