2010-07-11- Fin whale

Fin whale in Vestfjorden !


Today one of the true giants of the sea visited us in Vestfjorden and with a full boat we could enjoy the company of the second largest species that have ever lived on our planet – a fin whale!


On our way out to the open fjord we passed a beautiful fishing boat that was just about to take in the nets and saw lots of herring gulls had gathered around it looking for food. Among the gulls we discovered one of the most rare of the large sea-bird species that can be found in the Lofoten area – the Great Skua! which is a large dark-brown bird with white markings on their wings that breed far out at sea. Like all skuas, they specialise in stealing the food from other sea-birds. A little bit further out the smallest of all the skuas passed over the boat: the long-tailed skua, which is a much more slender and elegant skua with an exceptionally long tail. Before we reached the more deep water we could also see a gannet flying past our boat and several puffins and black guillemots were swiming around in the area searching for food.


Shortly after we had reached deeper water and made our first stop to look for any signs of whales in the area, a harbour porpoise came up close to the boat – a species that is normally very shy and wary of boats. We could see it surface 3-4 times before it decided to move on – a small whale that is normally very difficult to spot unless the sea is completely flat so we were lucky to see it.


After having cruised along the fjord for only another 15 minutes it happened ! We heard the blow of a large baleen whale that came up to the surface next to the boat and could just see the side of the body and the dorsal fin before it dived again. Having seen it only briefly, we first believed it was an adult minke whale, which is a species that we have encountered several other times in the fjord, but when it came up again, and we could get a closer look, we knew that we were lucky enough to experience one of the rare encounters with a fin whale!


After having seen the fin whale come up to the surface for 5-6 times we left our unexpected visitor in the fjord for her/himself and returned back to Henningsvær with big smiles on our faces and with an experience that I think none of us will ever forget as long as we live.


We wish to thank our visitors from today for a fantastic trip, and we would like to welcome all of you to visit us at Ocean Sounds Science Center and experience the life in the sea with us, or to come in to us and learn more about the marine wildlife in one of our popular lectures about the wildlife of Lofoten which is given daily by a marine biologist.


Welcome to Henningsvær!


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June 2010 collected news

20th of June

Too much has been happening in the last days and we haven’t had the time to update the web site, sorry about that.

Lately we have received several messages about dead whales in the Lofoten area and today we went around to have a look for ourselves. We found 2 dead killer whales, and also have photos of one dead pilot whale.

One killer whale was an old female with much worn down teeth. She has been lying on Sandøya at Vestresand since at least the 8th of April. The other killer whale was a young female that was first seen in the water at Molldøra on the 20th of May and came on shore end of May at Valberget, since the 31st of May it’s been lying on the beach at Kangerunden. She had  a deep cut on her left side, which may indicate a deadly enconter with a porpeller of a boat.

The pilot whale was found stranded on Gimsøya on the 10th of April, report and pictures were provided by Eric Fokke.
We have no evidence or more hints of the cause of these deaths, all we could do is take samples for DNA analysis in cooperation with Andy Foote.

24th of June

Midsummer has passed and the sun is now slowly getting closer and closer to the horizon every night. Today we had a beautiful trip on a very calm sea. Out in the fjord the puffins are feeding, but we couldn’t see or hear any whales. Under Vågakallen we saw an otter, and high up over the cliffs a sea eagle was harassed by an angry rough-legged buzzard. The shag chicks that are left are growing bigger and bigger, but unfortunately there is just four nests left. The tern colony on Moholmen is active and there are also quite a few black guillemots around.

25th of June

Today we went out on an evening trip with a German TV-crew from ARD, who are making a travel program about Lofoten. It will be broadcasted on German TV on the 18th of September at 16:00, if you want to see it.

The sea was completely calm again and still full of beautifully sparkling comb jellies. We listened for whales, but the underwater world was silent except for the boats. We stayed out in the middle of the fjord, watching the beautiful scenery, and out of nowhere suddenly a minke whale turned up, breathed a few times and then disappeared again. It’s really amazing how these animals can disappear into nothing, but as there are also quite a few whalers around, we are just happy that the animals are shy and avoid boats, that will give them a much better survival chance until this year’s hunting season is over.

28th of June

Sometimes it really pays off to sit outside and enjoy the evening sun. Today Fredrik sat at up at the light house at Sauøya, and out of nowhere a minke whale turned up, passing just 20 m from the coast line, what an amazing experience!

29th of June

Today’s trip started really well at the grey seal colony. There were at least three seals in the water (one male and two females) and they were all very curious at us and coming quite close to the boat when we turned off the engine. It was so quite around us that we could hear them breathing. On the way out to the middle of the fjord we saw a minke whale coming up to breathe a couple of times. Out in the fjord we saw two more minke whales and we also saw puffins, razorbills, black guillemots, fulmars and one guillemot, and on the way back we saw a harbour porpoise just outside of Henningsvær.

We also saw a lot of fish schools close to the surface, could it be that the mackerel is here? That could be good news, because the white-sided dolphins often follow the mackerel. 

30th of June

Today we spent the whole day out on a mirror blank fjord under a clear blue sky. We don’t have many days like this, so it’s fantastic to be able to use it so well. It was great out there and we had five sightings of minke whales (2 were probably the same) and also saw three harbour porpoises. As always, the puffins are feeding in the fjord, and we also saw razorbills, one gannet and a long-tailed skua.

Today we could also confirm that the mackerel is here, it was so cool to see them swimming just below the surface, and we could also hear them through the hydrophone, making metallic clicking sounds. Has anyone ever studied the communication of mackerel?

We have also been getting several reports of killer whales on the outside of Lofoten and Vesterålen, so now we are really crossing our fingers that they also come and visit us.

2nd of July

Today’s trip didn’t start perfectly, but turned out to be very special. We went out at high tide, so the seal colony was empty, and although the weather had been calm all day, the wind started blowing as soon as we went into the boat, and the odds of finding whales by sight felt very low.

However, further out the sea was calm again, and first we saw a shy harbour porpoise that just showed itself for a couple of times and then disappeared again. Just a little while later a minke whale turned up close to the boat, and when we stopped to look for it, it came up again just behind us! We could even hear its blow! It came up once more to breathe and then was swallowed by the sea.

A bit further out we met two harbour porpoises, probably a mother with a calf, and when we stopped the boat, they stayed within 10 m of the boat for around 20 minutes! Several times they were resting at the surface just beside the boat, not seeming to care about us at all. Then they went down for a short dive and turned up again on the other side of the boat. It’s so beautiful to have these animals coming so close to you, hearing their quick blows and for a short while (before we ran out of batteries) we could also hear their clicks through the hydrophone. When we were slowly drifting away from them we could also sea that there was another pair of harbour porpoises a little bit further away from us.

Today it was really difficult to use the hydrophone to listen for whales, because of all the noise from boats, and there was also some extremely strong sonar pulses, is someone doing seismic surveys on the outside of Lofoten to look for oil and gas again?

On the way back the wind was picking up, and we had a pretty rough ride home, but these beautiful encounters were definitely worth the sore backs, and we will remember them for a long time.

We also saw some beautiful puffins and also some fulmars, riding on the wind, and just outside of Henningsvær, Heike thinks she could hear some whistles, definitely something to investigate tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.

3rd July

For the last weeks it feels like we’ve been getting reports of killer whale and pilot whale sightings from all around us, but when we’ve been out there hasn’t been any signs of them… until now that is.

Today we went out at 10:30 and although the last thing that happened on yesterday’s trip was that Heike thought she could hear some faint whistles in the hydrophone, we went out today without too big hopes, but already at the first stop we could all hear the calls and clicks in the hydrophone, but where to go? We took a chance and went towards Skrova, and this turned out to be a really lucky guess. After about 15 minutes driving we met a group of about 10-15 pilot whales! Finally it was our turn for a magic encounter.

The group was travelling slowly westwards, and didn’t mind us joining them, in the beginning they were also a bit curious at us and came very close to the boat. These are such wonderful creatures, socializing all the time with each other, swimming almost on top of each other, jumping out of the water, swimming on their backs with their fins in the air, slapping their tail and always calling to each other. We were able to follow the group for several hours, always giving them the possibility to come close to us, but never chasing them. After four hours we saw another group of pilot whales further south in the fjord and left the first group to be able to get some pictures and recordings of these animals as well. It seemed that all small groups were gathering from the inside of the fjord and moving together out and south of the Vestfjord. They were many (> 30) and more spread out, and we followed them for another two hours. There were several very young calves, at least one looked like it was completely new born, still wrinkled after having been folded in its mother’s womb. At around 18 o’clock the whole group was still travelling south, and we left them for this time, hoping that they soon will pay us another visit.

To add to the wonderful nature experience we also saw one harbour porpoise, lots of puffins, two gannets, one kittiwake, around five fulmars, four long-tailed skuas and one great skua.

After a whole day together with the whales we have several hours of sound recordings and about 5000 pictures to analyse… there’s always work for rainy days!

The day would have been completely perfect if we hadn’t heard at least four shots from the whalers. Of course the flat sea also makes it a perfect hunting day for them, and now we fear that we might have lost some of our minke whale friends.

Enjoy here a collection of photos taken by Fredrik Broms and Eric Fokke:


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