Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Season sucess!

Dr. Gordon listening for whales.
Spermwhale fluking.

We have been very lucky with the weather and have therefore been sailing in “milky-calm” seas. There have been several whales depredating off the fishing boats and we have been able to document the behavior quite nicely. The calm weather has been good for spotting the whales from far away and it has allowed us to stay out at sea for extended periods of time. We were able to follow some whales for up to 48 hours, which will give us great insight into their behavior. The acoustic data will also enable us to measure the length of the whales.

Dr. Jonathan Gordon at the helm.
We got acoustic recordings of male sperm whales both while they were depredating from the lines and while they were feeding elsewhere. The photoidentification data has not been analysed yet, but we have seen at least five different whales with the fishing boats.

As the fishing season drew to a close we left Stø to return the research Vessel at it’s home port in Tromsø. Now we will begin analyzing the acquired data and looking for funding and collaborators for the future of this project. The blog will be updated, faithful to its nature, sporadically as we progress in the depths of scientific discovery.

Sails the Iolaire, homeward bound.

Many a thanks are owed again to the fishermen and the kind people that helped this project become a reality. Also special thanks are given to Redningsselskapet in Tromsø for equipping us with life vests for the project.Thank you.
All in all, to put it shortly, this season has been good for research.

Stay tuned for results!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

August 2017

The weather has been on our side.

The second part of the Greenland Halibut fishing season has started and Iolaire is out sailing again. Dr Jonathan Gordon is leading the field work and the team consists of Fred Lehto, Johnny Leo Johansen, Juho Reinikainen, Linda Massa and Tuomas Salonen.

S/Y Iolaire crewmembers for the August 2017 season, Juho Reinikainen, Tuomas Salonen and Linda Massa.

The entire June and July has been  a bit unusual in terms of sperm whales, with all whales moving to offshore waters (more than 20 nautical miles) on several occasions and whales have been hard to find for whale-watchers. We are looking into the underlying factors to this but do not have any answers yet. We were really curious to find out how things would be when the fishing started – would the whales be around?

The team in search of Spermwhales.
 It turned out that we were lucky, both with great weather and with several sperm whales around. We have now an acoustic recording of a sperm whale interacting with a longline, which was one of the main goals for this years field work – so we are more than thrilled! We hope ofcourse to get more recordings and feel optimistic since the weather forecast and whales seem to be on our side.

The work at sea consists to a large extent of watchkeeping, taking ID photos and listening to the whales.
We will be updating the blog every now and then as we are not always in the range of network, so bear with us. As we are a non-profit organisation, we would like to remind you of the possibility to donate to the research on this site (see the donate button), every little bit helps. Stay tuned and keep on pushing

Monday, June 19, 2017

Keep us going.

Support our work!. Arcticswirl has been registered as a non-profit organization and you can now donate money to the project here on this site to “keep us going”. In the sidebar menu you can find the Donate button for contributions to the research. We are very grateful for those supporting us and look forward to the work in August! 

End of first season.

The first season of Greenland Halibut fishery ended on Wednesday (14/6) and we are now looking at the results and preparing for the next season, which starts 31/7.
We battled with weather (rough seas) that limited the opportunities of working with the acoustic gear and surprisingly with sperm whales that seemed to have lost interest in the line fishery.
Unlike previous seasons, the depredation events were concentrated on the first week of fishery.
We heard and saw sperm whales on the fishing grounds, but to our great surprise they were not interested on the lines. We observed twice whales that clearly “investigated” all five vessels hauling in their lines, but instead of approaching they travelled away. Similar events were also reported by the fishermen. 

 Fishing in the midnight sun.
We are trying to figure out what this was about. One possibility is that these were individuals that had not learned the technique yet, and the individuals we have observed before were somewhere else. This seems a bit unlikely since the whales clearly came towards the boats. Young fishermen Erik, who participated in the field work onboard Iolaire, pointed out that the Greenland Halibut was much smaller than in the beginning of the season. We have now interviewed the skippers who saw depredation and they all say that this happened when they had large fish on the lines. It is rather amazing if it indeed turns out that the whales only come to the lines if the fish is large enough. Luckily this kind of data is available, also for the catches from previous seasons, and we will look into this in more detail. This approach will add to our understanding of the behavior and potential mitigation measures.
Fisherman Arto Laukkanen took excellent footage of the sperm whale they saw on the first day of fishery, 22/5. This individual was not identified last season, and is now added to the catalogue of known individuals depredating on the lines. The same boat observed three sperm whales a few days later, something that was recorded last year as well. One very large male and two smaller ones. We hope to see these whales in August and identify them. We know very little of the social structure of the male sperm whales in these waters. In literature they are described as solitary, however this observation as well as others from winter season (when groups of more than 10 males have been seen) give a more complex picture.
 Iolaire under way.

The towed hydrophone array (courtesy of Vanishing Point Marine ) worked very well and we hope to be able to record depredation events in August. We have some really good sound recordings of sperm whales and also of the sound of the fishing fleet hauling in the lines – last year these sounds seemed to alert the whales to the fishing activity.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Light breeze.

The weather has taken a turn for the better and we have sunshine and calm seas. Yesterday we went out to the fishing grounds and made more sound recordings of the sperm whales. No whales were seen near the fishing vessels during this particular haul, although the fishermen have met sperm whales on almost every other occasion. Heading out today as well!

Calm weather is good for sighting whales.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Out again.

The weather forecast states that the wind ought to change direction soon and the fishermen are about to head out again, which means that we go out too. We are making everything on board shipshape and preparing ourselves for the sail.

The change of wind.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fair winds.

Jonathan has gotten the hydrophone array all set up and we took Iolaire out for a stroll regardless of the varying weather forecasts. However, the waves proved to be a bit too steep to conduct proper hydrophone towing, so we decided to turn back and talk with the fishermen of Stø.

Conditions were not favourable. Fred at the helm.

 Fisherman Lauri Pietikäinen joined us for this season too.

 At the heart of the research, the hydrophone workstation.

The weather forecast for next week seems promising with light winds and a low wave  height, which is good news for going out. Stay tuned.