On Thursday (21.05) we heard them for the first time, pilot whales! we were out with 10 guests and were listening in the middle of the Vestfjord. The whistles and calls were were clearly pilot whale calls. We tested several places and assumed they were deeper in the fjord. Unfortunately we could not follow them this day. But the next day we found them. After 2 hours of listening and cruising around the Vestfjord like crazy (I was getting very impatient and frustrated) we found a mother, calf and a male close to the Island Moholmen. It was wonderful to see these animals again. I could take good photos for Photo-ID and collect sound recordings. We went out at sea in the evening again and found the whole group, at least 60 whales, just outside Henningsvaer. They were traveling very slowly to the open fjord and we could take perfect pictures for ID and do collect sound recordings. The whales were relaxed and rested a lot on the surface. Curiously they spy hopped (came out with their head to see what is going on above water) and played with each other. Several times the pilot whales came very close to our boat inspecting the hydrophone and I guess us strange 2 legged creatures…
But then other people discovered them as well and a small tourist boat came flying in, holding no distance to the whales and scared them away. Fortunately the tourists did not stay long and we could slowly catch up with the whales again to continue with our research. Whale watching regulations are needed in Norway!
On the 24 of May we found the whales again. This time they were on the other side of the fjord. We found them in the morning when they were slowly swimming into the fjord. We don’t understand these animals at all, are they spending the night at the opening of the fjord and move into the fjord during day for feeding? or is it all random, or connected to food availability? Are these always the same groups that come into the Vestfjord, how many are there? What kind of sounds do they produce for communication and how do they react to all the boat noise in the Vestfjord?
These are just a few of the questions we would like to be able to answer one day. From pictures taken on this day we could recognize the same animals as 2 days before. The group stayed in the Vestfjord. We could also detect a female that had a hunched back and her calf had the same. These anormalities are probably genetic.
Now the wind has picked up and pushes the whole Atlantic into the Vestfjord from the south-west. We will have to take a break.
Pilot whales are regular guests, but we don’t see them very often. However, with more research money we could increase our efforts to search for them on a regular basis. Unfortunately, also this year our application for research money was rejected, we do not fit into any “program” with our research goals.
The weather has been amazing and we went out almost every day to look for animals. A flat calm sea and sunshine plus 25 degrees made it an unforgetable time! we saw our well known mother and calf harbour porpoises: Lisa and Filip. Filip is now more than 2 years old. Around Henningsvaer there is a local group of harbour porpoises that count around 20 animals. We also saw the grey seal ladies, 3 of 5, but Oscar or Nils where nowhere to be seen. We encountered large groups of grey geese migrating north, the puffins came and the black guillemots have increased in number!
unfortunately we have not seen any whales yet, but we will soon….
here are some pictures:
Finally we can present our first compilation of animal sounds from northern Norway. The best recordings of my 5 year research is now available on a CD from Gruenrekorder. You can order them directly from their webpage: www.gruenrekorder.de
This CD contains more than 50 minutes of sounds of Killer whales, pilot whales, dolphins, seals, mackerell and bascin shark.
On our first tours this year we observed that our cormorant colony was gone. In 2007 we found them for the first time. There were around 150 cormorants that were breeding on 2 islands not far from Henningsvaer. These cormorants built beautiful nests on top of rocks out of seaweed and twigs. When we arrived to the island the cormorants were easily scared and flew off their nests. Some might think this is a beautiful sight or picture to take, but the truth is it will kill their population. As soon as the cormorants left their nests seagulls stole their eggs. We left immediately, but one week later all the nests were empty. We were not the only ones visiting the cormorant colony. It is a well known place for tourism and local people to take eggs and go fishing. Grey seals were not far from the islands and they attract boats, too. The cormorants had no offspring in 2007. After writing a letter to the officials a warning letter was sent out to all tour operators in Lofoten to stay away from these islands during breeding (April-June).
In 2008 we visited the cormorant islands in June and all nests were empty. Again the cormorants had no young in 2008. And now on the first of May there were no nests anymore. In 2009 the cormorants gave up breeding on these islands. Only around 50 cormorants were seen on the second islands and only a handful of nests were occupied.
This is a sad example of how uncontrolled tourism and other human actitivty can disturb wildlife.