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.
The blue whale, scientifically referred to as balaenoptera musculus, the largest marine mammal growing to lengths of up to 100 ft. long and weighing as much as 150 tons.
Blue whales are mostly identified by their lateral dorsal pigmentation, unlike humpback whales that are predominantly identified by the underside of their fluke.
The Blue Whale typically dives less than 330 feet when feeding and can only stay submerged for 10 to 20 minutes, but is capable of diving as deep as 1,640 feet.
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.
Puñihuil is a cove with a small fishing community that has steadily grown in tourism with penguin excursions where Magellan and the rare Humboldt penguins can be seen off the coast.
In the late 19th and early 20th century sheep farming expanded across the Patagonian grasslands making the southern regions of Argentina and Chile one of the worlds most productive.
The Churches of Chiloé are known for their architectural wonder because they are made entirely of native timber, including hinges and an extensive use of wood shingles.
Artisan fishing is practiced all over Chile’s 6,435 km long coastline and combines industrial techniques with pre-Hispanic traditions.
Artisan fishermen cultivate the Chilean black-lipped oyster. Small farms are seen outside most homes near water inlets. These oysters were harvested in front of me after visiting a small museum for the documentary.
Thanks to being an island Chiloé has evolved a rich biology that impressed even Charles Darwin who travelled through the archipelago for his research.
Chiloé has been internationally recognized by FAO as an Ingenious Agricultural Heritage site of the world for its agricultural culture, biodiversity and its traditional knowledge and practices.
Red-legged cormorant are among a variety of birds seen nesting on cliffs near the coast.
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.
The Humboldt penguins’ have one band around their neck, which is an easy way to tell them from the Magellan Penguins. Both are native to South America predominantly the countries of Peru and Chile. Chiloé is the only place where they both coexist to nest and procreate.
Most homes second as small restaurants serving local favorites such as steamed abalone known as “locos” often served with french fries.
The island of Chiloé is considered one of the best places in Patagonia to spot migratory and resident species of birds.
The island of Chiloé is the land of mist and mystery known for an abundance of surviving myths, superstitions and magic.
The landscape is full of rich vegetation and beautiful flowers such as various species of Fuchsias that are known for attracting hummingbirds.
Friendly horses roam free from neighboring properties that are often range beyond 20 acres.
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. Learn more
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.
The research boat that is used is very similar to the local fishing boats, a tractor is used to haul it in and out of the water.
Even in the most remote locations of the world, tourism is steadily growing. In Chiloe there is one boat dedicated to whale watching tours where blue whales, humpbacks and occasional right whales are observed.
On her first day out on Open Ocean, Kulia is excited to search for blue whales.
The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to have existed. During the 20th century, the species was almost exterminated due to commercial whaling. The species has slowly recovered following the global whaling ban but it remains endangered and faces a number of serious threats including ship strikes and the impact of climate change.
After crossing the Chacao Channel from Puerto Montt a narrow country road will lead you to Ancud, gateway to Chiloé, this coastal town is one of the best places to enjoy Chile’s extraordinary seafood.
Greg and Barbara speak with Captain Jose about what to expect out on the water with our projected course.
Research team in Chiloe left to right: Capt. Jose, Barbara, Elsa and Mariano
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.