Live whales tell better tale Researchers learn about the lives of whales, from photographs of whales’ tails

Monday, August 14, 2006
Reykjavik, Iceland
An international team of researchers aboard IFAW’s (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) unique whale research boat ‘Song of the Whale’ has today completed a successful two-month study of whales around Iceland. The vessel has travelled 6,655kms during the summer in Icelandic waters and spent 608 hours observing cetaceans. IFAW was continuing research initiated in Iceland during the boat’s maiden voyage in 2004.
The team of scientists and volunteers from Iceland, UK and as far afield as Trinidad, has been using modern, non-invasive research techniques to gather important data on the many species of whales found in Icelandic waters. Sightings have included rare blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, minke whales and white beaked dolphins as well as killer whales and basking sharks. One aspect of the team’s research has been to record the sounds of the blue and fin whales, at the same time documenting the behaviour of these whales at the surface with a technique called video-range tracking. The study has also included photo-identification of individual blue, humpback and sperm whales. Analysis of this data will tell us more about the lives and movement behaviour of these rare and magnificent animals. The team has been fortunate to encounter blue whales on nine days during the summer, one day with about 10 individuals in the vicinity. The boat spent approximately 43 hours studying the largest animal on earth. Most of the blue whales were seen very close to Husavik, an important centre for Iceland’s fast-growing whale watching industry. Few minke whales have been observed in 2006, however.
 
Anna Moscrop, leader of the Song of the Whale research team explains:

“Iceland is a remarkable place to study a variety of whales, offering some of the best opportunities in the world to see and hear large baleen whales such as blue and fin whales, species which were greatly reduced in numbers by commercial whaling in the last century. For example, you can see more humpback whales in a day in the waters of Iceland than you would in a year around the United Kingdom. The non-invasive techniques we develop and use can tell us much about the distribution and movements of whales. We thank the Icelandic authorities for providing us with a permit to carry out our research, and all the Icelandic participants and members of the public we have met during the summer for their interest.”

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