Thursday, 6 July 2017

Fieldwork 2017 - June completed! What will July bring?

Commentary by Sara Tavares

Two more weeks have past and we couldn’t have been luckier with the weather! We had the second Earthwatch team joining us over these weeks and we went out on the boat and worked in the land station almost every day.

Adult male killer whale travelling. Photo by Filipa Samarra.

We started this second study period very apprehensive, since we had read on the news about the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) exercise just South of Vestmannaeyjar running from the 23rd of June until today. We had no idea what this exercise involved but wondered if something could have an impact on the killer whales and make them move away from Vestmannaeyjar. So on the 26th of June we went out on the boat, and we searched for whales the whole morning around Heimaey. Nothing… No killer whales or any other marine mammal. The land station also looked for whales the whole morning and 3 different people saw a minke whale only once (!) and at different times… And never saw it again. They started calling it a ghost whale… Was it even real?

It seemed like a “dead sea” to us. And we were wondering: “Could this be connected to the NATO exercise? Did all the whales move away from here?”… But not giving up, in the afternoon we opted for a different route and looked for whales over the Northwest, further away from Heimaey where the land station only has partial view of the North of Vestmannaeyjar. And there they were!!! Killer whales everywhere! They were still here and it was around that area that they spent most time of these 2 weeks. We had amazing observations of feeding events in these area! We even had spy-hops and breaching whales at some point.

Humpback whale sighted from the boat. Photo by Filipa Samarra.

Adult male killer whale. Photo by Sara Tavares. 

The land station could follow the movement of these whales in the area and also saw other marine mammals from there, including pilot whales in the South of Heimaey. These were some amazing two weeks with lots of data collected. It shows that we can never get discouraged if we don’t find whales. Also, it is important to know that the whales are not in a specific area, so that we can learn how they use this herring spawning ground. As many researchers say: no data is good data!
We are looking forward to meet the third Earthwatch team and to continue data collection over the next two weeks. We can’t wait to see what these amazing killer whales will do next!

Kittiwake feeding near killer whales. Photo by Sara Tavares. 
Killer whale breaching. Photo by Sara Tavares.

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