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"A whale friend"
"Cetacean monitoring in Faxafloi Bay, Iceland"

Małgorzata Gazda1, Chiara Bertulli2
1 Jagiellonian University Faculty of Chemistry,
ul. R. Ingardena 3, 30-060 Kraków

2 University of Iceland, Biology Department, Náttúrfra?ahús/Askja;
Sturlugata 7, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland

Catch me if you can - minke whale hunted with camerao

Description popularizing the research project<

Everyone dreamed of having a pet once. A pet to love, feed, observe it while playing, eating, sleeping, cleaning, and with a bit of luck and patience, while caring for offspring. We also want the pets to show joy seeing their master and recognize each other from afar. In the dreams puppies, kittens, hamsters, mice and other fluffy rodents play, although Polish literature of Romanticism knows a case when a crocodile was dreamt of. Chances of having own pet minke whale are definitely slim.
The lucky ones can see the whales from the board of tourist ships and the ocean coasts, where over the horizon the giant and agile silhouettes emerge. The incredible feeling is fleeting and only a few photos remain showing the animal which will be never met again as the photographer will not come back to the place.
Yet the whales do return. Minke whales feeding at the cost of Iceland spend some time in the waters of Greenland Sea, rich in food but too cold to give birth to their offspring. Hence, young minke whales are born in warmer waters of lower latitudes, and when the polar day comes, the animals come back to their subpolar feeding grounds. Since 2008 they have not come back incognito any more. A few hundred individuals follow their life route along the meridians, discretely observed by Polish and Icelandic scientists. Biologists know how to recognize each of the identified whales and are happy to see them. Not only because they are committed to their extra large pets, but most of all because the animals managed to survive another season. Many years of observations and photographic documentation of individual minke whales, as well as other sea mammals: harbour porpoises and dolphins, together with sea birds accompanying them, serve researching their biology and protecting them. Yet still the biggest threat to them is a man. Not for the sentimental romanticism but for the whaling industry still practiced in some corners of the world.


Cetacean monitoring project was held in Faxafloi Bay using whale-watching boat provided for tourists as a research platform. The research project is coordinated by University of Iceland and Elding whale-watching which is an unique opportunity for cooperation between science and business. Each survey was recorded with GPS, meteorological observations were carried out and all cetaceans were recorded (observed and photographed). During the project the following species were sighted: minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris). Detailed behavioural observations were carried out focusing on feeding behaviuor. It is a crucial issue, because waters surrounding Iceland are cold, but in the summer months day-light is available almost 24hours a day (polar day). It makes the areas perfect feeding grounds. Yet the waters are too cold to give birth to the next generation of minke whales so they migrate south, to the warmer waters. Dolphins and harbour porposies stay in the coastal waters the whole year round. Presence of ceataceans was correlated with presence and feeding behaviour of seabirds, such as fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea) or gannets (Morus bassanus). One of the main goals of the project was to create a catalogue of the observed animals to reidentify them in the future. Based on this data, the population size of each species was calculated and individuals coming back were monitored. Minke whale catalogue has been held since 2008 and contains more than 400 individuals. The project also has quite big practical significance due to creating a possibility for tourists to talk to scientists and learn something about the research they carry out. It results in a more efficient campaign against whaling which has not been banned in Iceland yet.


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