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  • Writer's pictureElding's research team

2020 Humpback whale research: “Tattoo”

One of the easiest species to identify is the Humpback whale. With their unique fluke patterns, they are often easily identifiable from each other. These flukes may have dots, lines, rake marks, bite marks and even areas missing which makes every Humpback whale unique.

Humpback whales are migratory species and annually travel between breeding grounds in tropical waters and feeding grounds in subpolar waters to utilise the diverse richness of food (Lim and Magnúsdóttir, 2019). Faxaflói, where Elding operates, is such a feeding ground. The diet of the Humpback whale in Icelandic waters primarily consists of herring, krill and capelin and from the time an individual arrives in spring time through to its departure in Autumn it will have to consume around 3,000 pounds of food per day (Barnagaud et al., 2019).

Since 2007, the vast catalogue of Humpback whales created shows new individuals visiting the bay every year but also often returning individuals. During 2020, the research conducted on Humpback whales showed that there were 16 new individuals that visited the bay of Faxaflói which haven’t previously been documented! That is always such exciting news. However, the star this summer was a humpback whale who has been returning to the area for the last four years and has been named ‘Tattoo’. First sighted in 2016, ‘Tattoo’ has been sighted in Faxaflói and Eyjafjörður by Elding and has returned every year since.

‘Tattoo’ has a very distinctive fluke pattern and therefore is easily identifiable to the research team when out on tours. The fluke occupies black dots, white lines and tooth rakes, which suggest the animal has at one point in its life encountered Orca (Orcinus orca).

The figure below shows the occurrence of sightings of ‘Tattoo’ since first seen in 2016 in Faxaflói Bay and Eyjafjörður.

Figure 1.0 The number of sightings of ‘Tattoo’ recorded in Faxaflói (FAX) and Eyjafjörður (EYJ) from 2016-2020.

This whale generally visits Iceland between the months of April-October, which correlates with the migration pattern of Humpback whales. The graph also suggests that the animal has been sighted more times in EYJ than FAX in the last four years. Interestingly, this individual has not been documented to be sighted in both locations within one year and therefore always chooses a specific location for its time in Icelandic waters and appears to stay there throughout the feeding months. We hope to be back on the water in 2021 to meet up with Tattoo and show him to all our passengers!


Barnagaud, J.Y., Bouchard, B., Campagna, S., Célérier, A., Gauffier, P., Glotin, H., Lisney, T.J., Poupard, M. and Rasmussen, M Torres Ortiz, S. 2019. Behavioural responses of humpback whales to food-related chemical stimuli. PloS one, 14(2), p.0212515.

Lim, R. and Magnúsdóttir, E.E. 2019. Subarctic singers: Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) song structure and progression from an Icelandic feeding ground during winter. PloS one, 14(1), p. 0210057.

Article written by Sabrina Voswinkel


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