Humpback Whale Identification

Since I started this blog a bit over a year ago there have been quite a few posts about the humpback whales that we see here in Eyjafjördur. But today I realised that I never actually wrote about how you can recognize different humpback whales. Humpback whales are fantastic because it is possible to recognize them from the black and white pattern on the underside of the fluke. These patterns can really range from completely white to completely dark black and are so interesting. In different areas in the world there are extensive catalogues as scientists and researches have documented and re-sighted these whales for years. The unique pattern can also be used to come up with nicknames for the whales, which in some areas of the world is a very extensive process and is actually voted on. Here in Iceland is not done yet but we do sometimes come up with our nicknames, even if they are not official ones.

When you have two flukes that look very similar other markings along the body as well as shape and coloration/marking of the dorsal fin can also be used to figure out exactly which whale it is. If the whale has a completely whit or completely black fluke pattern the serrations on the edge of the fluke can be used to make a decision.

So here are just a few examples of the differences in fluke patterns that we see here in the fjord. In our catalogue of the fjord we so far have 78 different whales from last year and this year, three of which where seen in both years. But the season isn’t over yet 😉

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Blue whale in Eyjafjördur

Yes you read that right, we actually saw a blue whale in the fjord last night. How crazy is that, I can still not believe that that actually happened! So just for anyone who doesn’t know it, blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) are actually the biggest animals on Earth. They can grow to be up to 30 m long (males: 29 and females:33m). I can’t say how big exactly the individual was we saw yesterday but it was sooo big. The Humpback whales look almost small compared to them 😀

The blows of the blue whales can be up to 12m high and let me tell you, you can see the difference. Just seeing the blow was mind-blowing!!! When we got close enough to actually see the body as well it was crazy. The back just wouldn’t end until you could finally see the dorsal fin and then there is still so much underneath the surface that you don’t even get to see. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m still really excited about the fact that I saw one. I woke up this morning feeling like I still couldn’t believe I actually saw a blue whale. Dream come true ❤

Before I leave you with some of my fotos (I couldn’t decide which ones to upload so there are quite a few), here are just a few more facts about blue whales. You usually see them just by themselves but it is possible to see them in pairs as well. The season for blue whales here in Iceland is during the month of June. It is thought that most blue whales migrate between tropical and polar waters.During the winter they go to the warm, tropical waters for breeding and the summer they spend in the colder waters where the feeding grounds are thought to be. Usually they travel quite slowly but if they need to they can swim at over 30km/h.

Whales and Birds

I have been working a lot this last week and whales is really almost all that’s been on my mind. We had some of the best tours this season over the weekend and thankfully I had my camera with me on all of them. So yes I will start with some more humpback whale fotos but I promise other things will come. Over the last few days we were so lucky and saw a lot of breaching whales. It all started sunday morning with one whale that jumped about 8-10 times right in front of us and then just more and more cool stuff happened (groups of up to 3 together, feeding right in the harbour, new whales showing up and tailslapping/lobtailing/flipper slapping all from on whale). On one day last week we also saw a few white-beaked dolphins in the fjord. That was the first and so far only occasion that i’ve ever seen them here in Iceland (or anywhere really) and very exciting.

I have also started to try to learn more about some of the different bird species and for that tried to get photos of the ones we see in the fjord as well. Now I don’t know about all of you but taking photos of birds in flight is really hard. Whales are so much easier. But these are the few that I’ve managed so far:

Welcome back whales

I am so so happy that there are already a few whales in the fjord. Last year I arrived about three weeks later and it was a bit complicated at the beginning to find the whales. But now we have already seen 5 different humpback whales and one a couple of days even two minke whales. Most of the tours have been super relaxed and nice. Last weekend one of the humpbacks was almost in the harbour, I couldn’t even finish my intro and there it was . Really cool but also a bit annoying when you have 2 1/2 to 3 hours to fill 😀 Anyways here are a few of the photos I’ve taken so far when I was working.

On two days we also saw some tail slapping, which is always nice and interesting to see.

Although I do not know a lot about seabirds, I am super happy that right now there are still quite a few gannets in the area. They are probably my favourite sea bird, I don’t know a lot about them but they are just so elegant looking. As you can also see there is still quite a bit of snow on the mountain tops, though it is possible to see differences every few days as the snow melts.

Whales at 10,12,2,6….

….oh and also a bit further away at 9 and 3!!! If you’ve ever been on a whale watch or dolphin watch before you might have heard something like this before. Most companies use the clock system to tell their visitors in which direction they should look to see the animals. Well we do the same however at the moment you get to a point where you actually feel just a bit ridiculous calling out all these numbers because there are so many humpback whales that you just call out number after number and don’t get around to actually explain anything about these amazing animals. But you also can’t stop because there will always be at least some people that don’t look out at the fjord but rather look at you the whole time expecting you to tell them where to look even though there are whales in all directions around you.

At the moment we are very lucky because this is the ways it goes with almost every tour that we go out on. There are between 20-25 humpback whales in the Fjord and over the last week we saw around 8 new individuals that we hadn’t seen before this season. Not only have we been really lucky with the whales but also with the weather and we had some amazing tours with glassy sea conditions and even quite a bit of sunshine 🙂

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This las photo was after coming back from the evening tour a couple days ago (around 9:30), where the sunset and the clouds was just mirrored perfectly in the harbour!

A couple of weeks ago we had a few guys on the boat that filmed our whales with a drone and the material they got was used to put together a short clip about the whales in Eyjafördur that we have been so fortunate to see this season, if you want you cant take a look at Whales of Akureyri.

Whales on my mind

Today I used my day of to be productive but in a more fun productive way then yesterday (which I spend mostly writing job applications). You can see though where I still get my main inspiration from at the moment :D. Since I only have a small postcard sized paper block with me all of these were finished rather quickly and I’m also trying different styles like the two on the side that are a bit more abstract and vague (not quite as realistic), but I still kind of like them.

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Sunset Breaching

The last few days have been really busy, I’ve been working a lot from Friday to Monday and even though that meant less sleep it also meant a lot of great tours with awesome sightings of Humpback whales, a Minke whale and quite a few Harbour porpoises. The highlight was probably saturday evening when we got closer to Hjalteyri and saw a whale breaching in the distance. Normally that would mean that by the time we get closer to the whale it’ll stop but this one just kept going. It was so much fun to watch and after a while I recognized it as a whale that’s been around for a while but usually doesn’t fluke when it goes for a dive. However it is easy to recognize from its dorsal fin pattern. This was already really exciting, but then after a while it actually did 3(!!!) fluking dives and I finally saw the fluke pattern :). That tour just made me ridiculously happy!

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Chin slap breach
Chin slap breach

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Whale diving off into the sunset
Whale diving off into the sunset

On that tour we also had a team on board that was filming some promotional material for the company using a camera attached to a drone, so they managed to capture all these beautiful whale action in the sunset on video! Super excited to see it once they cut it all together. They came out on two different tours and got so much good material because both were excellent tours.