On 25th March 2012 SOTW and her team departed Ipswich, Suffolk to embark on a series of research, education and outreach projects during a circuit around the North Atlantic. The field work took six months to complete, stopping at six countries and covering over 10,000 nautical miles.
The Azores was our first main port of call, where at least 24 cetacean species have previously been recorded. Here and throughout the entire trip we focused on the implementation and development of new acoustic detection methods to locate beaked whales and large baleen whales such and blue and fin whales. Photo identification images were also gathered in the hope that whales sighted around the Azores may be matched to those sighted around Iceland.
As we reached North America in early June, humpback whales became the focus of our research. Joining forces with many organisations including NOAA and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, to study feeding humpbacks in that area and better understand how they use the water column with the aim of reducing the risk of vessel collisions and entanglements.
SOTW then sailed north, towards the cooler climes of Iceland, en route we hoped to encounter the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. These animals are well studied in their coastal habitats off North America, however our aim was to provide information on these animals in the lesser studied offshore areas off Canada, Greenland and Iceland. Right whales were unfortunately not seen on this trip, however acoustic data are currently being analysed and may yet reveal some detections of whales.
In Iceland it was the minke whales’ turn for attention as the team looked at their movements and behaviour in relation to the whale watching vessels there.
Throughout the year, every cetacean species sighted or heard through the hydrophones were recorded, along with seals, sharks and turtles and even sightings of rubbish to better understand distribution of marine debris.
The variety of cetaceans recorded during the trip has been phenomenal. Blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales, sei whales, pilot whales, northern bottlenose whales, Sowerby’s beaked whales, minke whales, sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, spotted dolphins, striped dolphins, white beaked dolphins, white sided dolphins, harbour porpoise and even acoustic detections from killer whales! Unfortunately whales and dolphins are impacted by a range of different human threats and that is why efforts to help protect these animals and their ocean habitats are so important.
The sailing may be over for the year, but the SOTW team are still hard at work, analysing the six months’ worth of data and maintaining and preparing SOTW for projects in 2013. A huge thank you goes to everyone who has participated in the various projects and helped to support the SOTW team’s important work this year, from crew members to interns, local students, visiting scientists, resident artists, donors, fundraisers and locals we’ve met along the way.
The SOTW team would like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and we look forward to sharing our findings from this season with you in the New Year.
In the meantime please take a look at the new sound clips page that is being developed, where you can hear vocalisations and view spectrograms for a variety of cetacean species.