Field essay: in our Atlantic odyssey, who knows where the minke goes?
As we move onwards through our 2012 Atlantic odyssey, the next phase is real-time video tracking of Icelandic minke whales.
Research by PhD student Fredrik Cristiansen has suggested that whale watching vessels might be affecting the behaviour of the minke whales found in Faxafloi Bay, an important area for whale watching close to Reykjavik.
To investigate this further, we are tracking individual animals both with and without whale watching boats present, using video to film their surfacing behaviour and measure precise bearings and distances.
Fredrik and his colleague Michelle have also joined us onboard for two weeks, carrying out his research protocol continuing his previous studies which were conducted from whale watching vessels previously.
We’ve been tracking for a week now and are really pleased with how successful the video tracking has been.
Before the project, we’d not been sure how many whales we would find, or how long we’d succeed in tracking them for. The slinky minke has a reputation for being hard to keep tabs on, with complex surfacing behaviour, and often showing very little of itself at the surface.
However, we’ve been blessed by fabulously flat seas, and some really very cooperative animals. The result has been that we’ve managed to track individual animals for several hours – our record so far has been six hours – observing their habitat use and changes in surfacing behaviour over time frames we never thought we would achieve.
Several team members have (somewhat ashamedly) previously confessed to finding the charms of the minke whale a little too subtle: so often on surveys all that is glimpsed is a couple of quick views of a back and dorsal fin rolling out of the water, before the animal dives and disappears from view.
But the opportunity to quietly keep pace with a steadily travelling minke, or stem the tide whilst an animal feeds along the tide line, or drift in the company of the fulmars with a whale doing circuits of the boat, has given us a new appreciation of their quirky habits, and idiosyncratic behaviour.
However, over the last week we have also had an unprecedented number of opportunities to smell their festering cabbagy breath at close quarters. Some things don’t change; that’s a charm that is still lost on us…