DEI task team member Ellen Johannesen joins Arctic research mission with Sea Women Expeditions


Tromsø, Norway, November 26, 2022 – Riding the wave of gender discussions at COP 27, an international team of 34 Indigenous and non-indigenous explorers has departed Tromsø aboard the 46.5-metre MV Vestland Explorer for a three-week ocean research and winter snorkel expedition (November 14 to December 4, 2022) some 350 kilometres above the Arctic Circle. The Sea Women Expeditions (“SWX”) team will explore the interlocking themes of gender, ocean sustainability, loss of biodiversity and climate change in the Arctic.

“Women play transformative roles in climate change adaptation and mitigation and are at the forefront of environmental and climate justice movements, spearheading innovative and effective approaches … ,” said UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous.

“Women and gender diverse people are largely missing from circumpolar exploration and policymaking, and we need to incorporate their voices and knowledge,” said Susan R. Eaton, Canadian geoscientist and SWX expedition leader. “That’s why Sea Women Expeditions is building a diverse community of skilled, connected and engaged people ready and willing to take a seat at the decision-making table to tackle gender inequality and climate change.”

 The expedition takes place during the winter herring run in Norway’s Arctic fjords, some 350 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. The SWX team will simultaneously snorkel with orcas and humpback whales to collect observational behavioral data and collect critical biological and environmental data about the warming arctic environment.

The Arctic Ocean is warming and acidifying faster than any other oceanic body, causing a domino effect on marine and planetary ecosystems. “The oceans are the climate change engines of the planet.,” said Eaton. “By studying what’s happening in arctic waters, we can better predict what may happen on a planetary level.”

SWX will run three back-to-back women’s leadership programs in Tromsø, followed by three back-to-back ocean research and winter snorkel programs in Arctic Norway’s deep fjords (situated at 70 degrees North latitude) in partnership with Waterproof Cruises & Expeditions.

In terms of the marine mammals, behavioral studies will document interactions between snorkelers and orcas during the winter herring run. These can help inform ecotourism policies to come—ensuring the long-term sustainability of these apex predator populations. Passive acoustic recordings with multi-directional hydrophones will be analyzed for unique orca dialects.

“The impacts of snorkeling with free-ranging killer whales are understudied,” said Sarah Neill, British marine biologist and SWX expedition co-leader. “There’s a need to add to baseline data to document this snorkeling with orcas in order to better inform management policies and ensure the sustainability of these ecotourism ventures.”

Environmental scientific endeavors include collection of baseline chemical and physical data about the Arctic (conductivity, temperature and density) as well as eDNA water sampling to assess how the changing waters influence what species live there. This data could inform future biological research and protective policies in the region.

Just as orcas are intergenerational and matriarchal, the expedition team studying them also ranges from 20 to 70 years old and includes participants from 15 countries around the globe. The team is intentionally interdisciplinary and includes ocean explorers, scientists, artists, photographers, videographers, writers, lawyers, historians, traditional knowledge holders, educators, students and scuba diving professionals.

The expedition continues—and expands upon—the work SWX completed during their proof-of-concept voyage in 2019. Because of SWX’s unique intersection of innovation, exploration, communication and outreach for the ocean, the expedition has been endorsed by the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). The team will also carry the first-ever expedition flag (No. 1) from The Explorers Club, Canadian Chapter as well as an expedition flag from New York-based WINGS WorldQuest.

Ellen Johannesen is a core member of the ECOP Programme, and part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity task team.  She just returned from spending one week at Sea with Sea Women Expeditions, and said:

“It was so inspiring to be in the Arctic, with that amazing team of women and gender diverse people, getting close-up and in the water to help study orca behaviour and the interactions with snorkelers.”

Ellen is planning to turn her experience into an auto-ethnographic account of what it’s like to be a woman going to sea on a research expedition for the first time. This will form a part of her PhD research and will contribute to the Empowering Women for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development project at the World Maritime University.

Sea Women Expeditions

Sea Women Expeditions (“SWX”) is a Canadian-based organization whose mission is to scout, record, and document disappearing sea ice in the Arctic. SWX creates opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and gender diverse people to gain leadership skills and polar field experience in Exploration and the Arts & Sciences. Together, these participants create planet-wide ripple effects.


Susan R. Eaton

A geoscientist, journalist and conservationist, Susan R. Eaton explores the world’s oceans—from Antarctica to the Arctic—in the snorkel zone. This unique, land-sea-ice-air environment allows charismatic animals and snorkelers to comingle. In these polar regions, Susan studies the interplay of plate tectonics, oceans, glaciers, climate and life.


Sarah Neill 

Sarah Neill is a lifelong ocean lover and protector. She has trained animal rescue teams all over the world. She has experience rehabilitating whales, dolphins, sea turtles, manatees, alligators, bats and more, and has co-written a university degree in British Animal Management and Wildlife Rehabilitation.

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