Monday, 28 August 2017

Fieldwork 2017 – that’s all folks!

Commentary by Sara Tavares

Juvenile killer whale. Photo by Sara Tavares.

And this year’s fieldwork is now finished. These were some full 3 months!! We have now packed everything and left the beautiful island of Heimaey. But this was not an easy trip. The bad weather (strong winds that lead to high swell!) made it more complicated than it needed to be, with canceled ferry trips to mainland Iceland and then a ferry trip that took 3 hours (instead of the normal 30 minutes!)... But we eventually made it!

Packed car!

Before the bad weather hit the archipelago, we still had an awesome encounter with killer whales during the last week. These whales were travelling almost non-stop, they had somewhere to go! 3 of the juveniles kept coming close to the research boat, it looked like that they were playing with the bobbles that the engine was making… Very cool to see, but the driver had to be extra-focused since we had to navigate the boat with even more caution than usual, because they were coming so close!

These killer whales were travelling fast, where were they going? Photo by Sara Tavares.

Adult male killer whale travelling. Photo by Sara Tavares.

The Icelandic Orca project will be back next year, and all new fieldwork adventures will be reported here on the blog! Takk fyrir Iceland! Takk fyrir Vestmannaeyjar!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Fieldwork 2017 - Minkes don’t eat chips

Commentary by Miguel Neves

Miguel Neves has been a part of the Icelandic Orca project fieldwork for the past 5 years. This blog post is about his experience over these last 2 weeks of August 2017.

Blue whales close to Heimaey. Photo by Filipa Samarra.

The last Earthwatch team of the season (team 5) has just left. After our one week forced break in the beginning of August because of the Þjóðhátíð1, it was a relief to see the whales were still around. This was the first time the fieldwork ran in August, and we were happy to learn that killer whales could still be found here this time of the year. But they weren’t the only thing we found. On one day we spotted blue whales from the land station and followed them on the boat to take pictures to share with researchers studying this species (did you know that a blue whale’s tongue alone can weigh as much as an elephant, and their hearts as much as a car?); on another day we worked with the killer whales so close to shore you could hear the blows from the land station, in Stórhöfði!

Glacier behind Suðurey. Photo by Sara Tavares.

The day after that, the sea seemed dead. No whales were spotted from the land station. Even so the sea was so flat we decided to go out on the boat to scout further offshore. And boy were we happy we did it. Behind the islands, in the land station’s blind spot, we saw an aggregation of minke whales, and counted over 11! Minkes feed on a wide range of prey, including small schooling fish, such as herring, capelin and sand eel, demersal fish, like cod and haddock and yes, you guessed it, not chips. But they do feed on krill! And we got to see those red patches in the sea that are made up of thousands and thousands of minuscule crustaceans, and the surface of the water seemed to bubble when they swam. This is the stuff documentaries are made of.

One of the minkes of the aggregation. Photo by Sara Tavares.

Red-necked phalaropes and a minke in the background. Photo by Sara Tavares.

Video by Miguel Neves.

1Þjóðhátíð (from Wikipedia; English: The National Festival) is an annual outdoor festival held in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland […]. Locals and guests gather in Herjólfsdalur valley on the island of Heimaey for four days of various events. […] Þjóðhátíð was first held in 1874 when islanders were prevented by bad weather from attending the celebration on the Icelandic mainland of the millennium of Icelandic settlement.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Fieldwork 2017 - lots of work in July!

Commentary by Sara Tavares

Uff!! We’ve been busy… We’ve had some full weeks at the end of July! Work with Earthwatch team 4 started slow, with some very bad weather (mostly strong winds) not allowing us go out on the boat or do land station surveys. However, after a few days, the weather changed completely and we were working non-stop! 

We had days with lots of sightings, one day we saw 4 different species: minkes, harbour porpoises, pilot whales and killer whales! Check out this video (by Miguel Neves) of the team working on the boat observing feeding killer whales:

We had a 1 week break during the first week of August and now we are back to work, with more news to come soon!