How Cookson Adventures is Making Pioneering Research Possible

15 August 2019 • Written by Jennifer Read-Dominguez

A team of scientist’s ground-breaking research into a new type of killer whale has been made possible by Cookson Adventures.

The expedition began when the luxury travel company was approached by an anonymous philanthropist interested in funding killer whale research as part of a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Cookson was instrumental in pairing the client with the expertise of leading killer whale expert Dr Bob Pitman and the 22-metre expedition yacht Australis, from which Dr Pitman’s team were able to conduct their research and shine a light on a type of killer whale previously unknown to science.

The crew on board Australis

“We managed to get some support from Cookson company who asked us if we would be interested in doing some killer whale research as part of a tour package they were putting together,” said Dr Pitman.

“It was a high risk, high reward situation with no guarantee that we would be able to do anything but after eight days in huge winds down by Cape Horn, we had one good weather day and we found our animals on that day.”

More than 17 years from the first sighting – there they were - right where the fishermen told us to look," Dr Pitman recalled. “They turned out to be quite friendly and I realised it must be because they spend a lot of time feeding from the boats. They were happy just to roll over and look up at us.”

Australis surrounded by the rare Type-D orcas

The ground-breaking expedition resulted in the collection of crucial samples from the “Type D” orca, which will now help scientists unravel the secrets of the curious sub-species.

The new “Type-D” killer whale is very distinctive from its iconic cousins by smaller, rounder heads, longer dorsal fins and small white eye patches.

Sightings of these rare creatures have been documented as far back as 1955 when a group of similarly “strange-looking” whales were reported stranded off the coast of Paraparaumu, New Zealand.

Director of operations at Cookson Adventures, Tom Hutton commented: “Conservation has always been a part of our DNA and it is one of our values and our clients share those values. We’re able to put them in touch and make those connections with our huge network of scientists, researchers and conservationists all over the world.”