Thursday, 22 May 2014

Update on IF-4

Since the last post we have received new pictures of the sighting of IF-4 in Caithness and the news is not is now possible to see that she looks very emaciated, that is, in poor nutrition condition which indicates she hasn't been getting enough food for a while...

This could be a result of having made the long journey from Iceland to Scotland and feeding little during the journey, but if she has reached this state of poor condition the prospects for the future of this 'old lady' are not good...on the other hand, if she finds a regular and plentiful supply of food in Scotland she might just recover! Our knowledge of how these whales cope with periods of low food supply is limited, to say the least, but going through these periods may actually be more regular than we think.

It just goes to show how much we can learn from the pictures you take and provide to our research. We will keep an even sharper eye next winter and hope to see the familiar fin of IF-4 breaking the waters of Kolgrafafjordur, but in the meantime if you have any sightings of her or any other whales near you do please get in touch!

Friday, 16 May 2014

From Iceland to Scotland!

We have just heard the breaking news! IF-4, one of the old timers of Iceland, first identified in the 1980's, has been seen off Caithness, in the North of Scotland by the Caithness Seacoast tour company just a few days ago. But here's where it gets interesting, just a few months ago we were sailing the waters of Kolgrafafjordur following this female up in Iceland! So this is exciting stuff, these whales do go far for a bit of food. Check out their facebook page where you can see a picture of the right side of this female and look below - see if you can spot the similarities!

Left side of IF-4
Right side of IF-4

We are conducting a study gathering all our years of photographs from Iceland to look at the movements of orcas around these waters, and relating it to other locations where they might be found, such as Scotland. So contributions from local tour operators and the public are crucial to our understanding of where these whales go throughout the year. So if you see whales near you get in touch.  

Thursday, 15 May 2014

A study on pigmentation of killer whales

A new study has recently been published looking at the pigmentation features of North Atlantic killer whales. Pirjo Mäkeläinen from the University of Helsinki and her colleagues analysed photographs of the saddle and eye patch patterns of whales from Norway, Iceland, UK, Spain and Greenland. Both the saddle patch (the lighter grey area found behind the dorsal fin) and the white eye patch are commonly used to help identify individual killer whales.

This study found that throughout the North Atlantic there is little variation in saddle patch shapes, but more variation in eye patch shapes. However, a small group of whales found in the Hebrides (UK) stood out from the rest due to its unique downward sloping eye patch shape. These results suggest that this small group of whales is reproductively isolated from the rest of North Atlantic killer whales, which adds to existing concerns over the future of this community. If you would like to read the full study please go here.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Sinking Tango, damaged cars...

Yes, the final weeks of our field season had their troubles! Following one, if not THE, worst storm we had during our 2 month stay in Grundarfjordur we woke up to a damaged car. Our car had been damaged by a piece of metal that in the super high speed winds had been lifted off the ground. As the morning progresses and we try to deal with the logistics of this incident we get a phone call from Gisli, the whale watching boat captain: "Tango is sinking! Come quick!"

We arrive at the harbour to the harbour master and some other local fishermen looking at our boat, like us, in disbelief of how full of water it got and wondering how to solve this now...the boat was so heavy with all the water inside that now the stern was also underwater, which meant water just kept coming in and we feared soon the boat would go under. The harbour master had an ingenious solution! "Lets all stand in the bow and use our weight to push the stern up just enough that we can keep water from coming in and then we can use the buckets to take all the rest of the water out". It worked! It took a while to get all the water out and once that job was done there was all the maintenance checks to make sure nothing had been damaged by being soaked. The Tango was back in business for the last few days.

Just in time! The last days were magic, like the Grundarfjordur we remembered of 2013! Whales everywhere! Perfect weather! There were even whales we hadn't seen in a long time, like one particular male we hadn't seen since 2011 so these were days of plenty indeed. It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to Grundarfjordur. We are now getting ready for the July season in Vestmannaeyjar, it's coming soon and we can't wait!