Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Fieldwork 2016 - the first 2 weeks!

Commentary by Marie Louis

Marie Louis is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of St Andrews joining the Icelandic Orca project fieldwork this season. This blog post is about her experience over the first 2 weeks with us.

I am helping with field data collection on killer whales in Vestmannayejar since two weeks. It has been a fantastic and interesting experience so far. Sara and Filipa explained us during the first couple of days how the material was working and how the data should be collected. 

On the boat, I am in charge of taking photo-identification data. Sara showed me during the first two trips how the photo-ID data is collected in particular for social structure analyses. The challenging but also exciting part is to get eye patches’ photos of the calves as they are fast and often stay behind their mother. It greatly helps for their identification as their saddle patch is usually faint. 

Adult male dorsal fin and saddle patch. Photo by Marie Louis.
Female and juvenile. Photo by Marie Louis.

Female, calf and juveniles. Photo by Marie Louis.
We had really great encounters with the killer whales and good weather conditions. We are re-sighting part of the same whales trip after trip, sometimes with different associates. Some of the whales (as illustrated by the below photos of the male with the floppy fin and the female with a big notch on the dorsal fin) are easy to recognize in the field. During the last trip, several groups of whales were feeding and surrounded by lots of diving gannets. There was also a humpback whale in the middle of the groups of killer whales. We sampled herring from these feeding events; Filipa will use them for stable isotopes analyses to better understand the feeding ecology of the killer whales. 

Humpback whale. Photo by Marie Louis.

Adult male with a floppy fin. Photo by Marie Louis.

An easily recognizable female with a big nick (IS035). Photo by Marie Louis.

It was also very interesting to see other parts of the data collection: acoustic recordings and behavioral sampling, and tracking data collection from land using a theodolite. I am very glad to be here, the Vestmannayejar is a very beautiful archipelago and an amazing field site. It is also a paradise for seabirds and puffins-fans!  Every evening we rotate to cook a nice meal for everyone and learned new recipes including tasty vegan cakes. We have been stuck on land due to a storm yesterday but tomorrow’s forecast is looking good. I am looking forward to see what the next two weeks will bring!

Juvenile killer whale. Photo by Marie Louis.

Gannet rock in Vestmannaeyjar. Photo by Marie Louis.

Puffin. Photo by Marie Louis.

The view from the volcano that erupted in 1973. Photo by Marie Louis.

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