Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The end...for now!

Over the last couple days the whales disappeared...not completely but as they gave us a couple days off we decided to take in the beauty of this place and went hiking up one of the mountains to enjoy this amazing view. The light was just incredible, there is something different about a sunny winter day in the bay of Grundarfjordur that makes us appreciate how lucky we are to be here...

This change in killer whale presence in the fjords coincided with the end of our field season. As a lot of the equipment we are using needs to be sent back for other projects we had to take our mighty boat Tango off the water and pack everything. And just as we did that the orcas showed up just outside the harbour, literally! As some of us cursed our luck, others had the better thinking that the whales came just to say goodbye.

Either way, it seems that over the last few days things have been changing. The whales have been appearing later in the day and sometimes not at all, probably because they have started following the herring that is migrating further offshore. We certainly hope so because that means we have good chances of finding them again in the summer, off Vestmannaeyjar, where our summer fieldwork will take place!

It has been an amazing season in Grundarfjordur. We were welcomed by all the locals, even though we were constantly hassling everyone asking for help with equipment failures, boat breakdowns and various other things. We thank everyone here for these times we won't forget and we already look forward to next year!

In the meantime we will continue posting on the outcomes of our time here and our experiences, so stay tunned as it ain't over yet!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Onboard the Láki

Team member Miguel writes about his experience working in Grundarfjordur onboard the Láki, the whale-watching boat that goes out every day. The tours are run by Laki Tours and Discover the World.

My name is Miguel Neves, I am a Master degree student, and I’m currently part of the team conducting the Icelandic orca research in Grundarfjörður.

I spend great part of the time onboard the whale watching boat Láki, along with Julie Beesau. We’re in charge of doing photo-ID sessions of the individuals we encounter during the trips, as well as sound recording sessions, with a single hydrophone. When we get home we backup the data, and if possibly try to analyze some of it. It can be tiring, but is always great being able to see in firsthand all the data we got throughout the day, so we usually rush and do it. So I can say we have a great daily routine.

It wouldn’t be enough telling I’m having the time of my life, doing what I dreamt doing when I was younger, and doing it with such an amazing team as this is. Great workmates, in a place with amazing landscapes and such nice and helpful people I’ve been meeting along the way. What more could I ask for? Maybe just that this isn’t the last time I’m doing this.

Miguel Neves

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Tag on!

Finally the sun has been shinning and we have been working hard for the last 4 days making the most of it! And with the good weather we got a chance to try tagging and succeeded. We are using Dtags originally developed by Mark Johnson and Peter Tyack at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to study the underwater behaviour of whales. The tag records the movements as well as the sounds of the whales and give us an amazing view into the underwater world that is beyond what we can see from the surface. Hopefully these data will give us great insights to how the whales behave underwater, so we are excited to start analysing it! But before that the good weather is staying for one more day so tomorrow we go for it again!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Snow, snow and more snow

A MODIS satellite picture of Iceland

Over the last few days we have been in the middle of a storm. Strong winds have kept us home, working on our computers instead of out there studying the whales. But today brought a whole new element to this incredible show of nature: snow, and lots of it! If this was what you could see of Iceland yesterday from space, today all we could see was a few meters out of the front door, if we were lucky.

In Grundarfjordur we are staying in a 2-storey house made up of two separate apartments, one on each floor, connected by an outside staircase. It sounds lovely and spacious, except when you can't find the steps on the staircase because it all just looks like a mountain of snow! Hopefully the weather will improve over the next few days and we can be out in the water again. Still, it's amazing to witness the power of the weather in this part of the world.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Looking out of the kitchen window...

Welcome to the Icelandic Orca blog!

We have started the first winter field season of this project and we couldn't have asked for a better start! The whales have been around this area since late November and we see them regularly.

The team arrived to Grundarfjordur in the beginning of February and after some time spent training and setting up equipment we are now on full working mode. The only thing we have to be patient about is the weather, it is winter after all! When the weather is too bad to go out, like today, we often still see the whales very close to land, sometimes just outside of the harbour. It is quite a treat to have lunch while watching whales from the kitchen window...

Our fieldwork will continue until April and we are aiming to investigate the underwater and acoustic behaviour of these whales, particularly when they are feeding. So stay tuned as over the next few weeks team members will post updates on the different aspects of the work we are doing here.