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Winter: the time to catch up on research!

Photo credit: Megan Whittaker and Dorota Chrostek

Days are getting shorter, the air is getting colder, and the sea is getting wilder. That can only mean one thing: winter is coming. At Elding, we love the winter season. Not only do we get to admire the northern lights in the dark nights and the snowy mountains during the short days, we also have more time for research!

We have hundreds of questions about our encounters from this incredible summer: Why were there so many humpback whales this year? Why did many of them stay in pairs? How many encounters of each species did we have? Which individuals have we been seeing? Are they new visitors or regulars of the bay? In order to answer all of these questions (and more!), our research team is analysing the photos that Elding’s whale-watching crew have collected, that up until recently had mostly been waiting on our hard drives because of a whale-filled summer and before that, the COVID lockdowns. Now that we have more time with only one tour a day, we are very excited to have started organizing and processing our data to find out more about this year’s cetacean visitors and residents of Faxaflói.

Snow-covered mountains are one of the many reasons we love the winter season at Elding. Photo credit: Miquel Pons

Photographic Identification

The photos that our guides and researchers take during Elding’s whale-watching tours not only describe the awesome encounters of the whales and dolphins we have seen this year, they also allow us to identify the individuals we have been seeing and to gather information about them. One of our favourite parts about photographic identification (photo-ID) is that we get to relive our memories through photographs and find out more details about the individuals that we were able to admire. Conversely, we are sometimes also able to recognize an individual while we are in the field because we have seen them in our photo database before, and we are always very happy to see a “familiar fluke” in real life. But the best part is that photo-ID research shows that our whale-watching trips are not just fun for the moment, but also very important for the future: the data we gather from an encounter that maybe lasts half an hour are incredibly valuable in the long-term. With the data, we can start to understand what is happening in the bay, and see how we can ensure that the whales and dolphins are protected so that in future years we can have equally spectacular whale-watching tours and can keep gathering data on these species.

Photo-ID is the main research technique our team uses to gather information about the cetaceans we encounter.

Sightings database

Another part of our research is analysing a “sightings database”. After every tour, we record how many individuals of which species were spotted. Those numbers can help us form an idea about the abundance of each species in the bay, while also allowing us to calculate Elding’s sighting success rate and it can reveal seasonal trends in species distributions. For example, check out this blog post about interannual and seasonal sightings from the past. We are currently catching up on organising the data from the past two years, after which we will conduct statistical analyses to see the most recent trends in our sightings.

We record every sighting in a database. We look forward to determining how many sightings we have had so far and how many are yet to come! Photo credit: Eline van Aalderink

What’s next?

Are you as excited as us to find the answers to our questions? Keep an eye on this blog because we will keep posting updates as we find out more about the whales and dolphins that we have seen on our tours this year!

By Eline van Aalderink


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