The HVALID-project forms a part of a large international research collaboration (weShare) with the aim to study the environmental and ecosystem effects of Norwegian Spring Spawning (NSS) herring superabundance in local fjord systems in Northern Norway.
Recent years have seen the annual recurrence of large schools of NSS-herring in the fjords of Northern Norway. This herring superabundance has become an important resource for the national herring fishery, which congregate on these fjord systems from Oct-Nov to Jan-Feb. The herring also attract large numbers of humpback and killer whales, which profit from this easily accessible food resource and provide the whales with an important energy top-up on their southward migration to breeding grounds in tropical waters.
While the fjord-based fishery has generated substantial revenues over the past 2-3 years, the budding whale watching industry has become a significant addition to the range of nature-based tourist attractions on offer in the region. However, the herring superabundance can also seriously affect the fjord water quality, both through depletion of dissolved oxygen and through organic stress caused by the accumulation of excessive amounts of organic material (incl. dead fish). These changes can cause dramatic changes to the fjord ecosystems, and also pose a threat to local aquaculture operations.
Through a wide range of approaches, we will describe the environmental and ecosystem effects of the herring superabundance, and also examine in detail the opportunities and challenges associated with building up business activities around these events, whether commercial fishing, aquaculture or nature-based tourism such as whale-watching. One ultimate objective of our project is to determine the extent to which these superabundance events can be predicted, and how such information can be used to develop commercial activities around them in a sustainable and responsible way.
In order to achieve the objectives of the weShare project, it is important to get good estimates of whale abundance in the fjord systems, and to know for how long time individual whales remain in our area before continuing on their long seasonal migrations. For this, we use photo-identification which is a powerful tool to track the movements of individuals between and within fjords, and to determine their residence time in the fjord systems. Combined with other data collected within the weShare project, such as tagging data on fish consumption rates, we can get an idea of the food requirements of individuals and the fish consumption by the entire population visiting the fjords.
Photo-identification was initiated in 2010 as a way to monitor the humpbacks in the region in more detail and to assess their affiliations within a larger North Atlantic context. The establishment of the North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue (NNHWC) became a cornerstone of the weShare project with the aim to learn more about the ecology and movements of the previously little studied population of humpback whales if the Eastern North Atlantic and ultimate to inform more effective conservation efforts for the species.
The long-term monitoring of humpback whales using photo-identification relies on contributions of tail fluke photographs, both from dedicated research trips and voluntary contributions by the public.
To participate yourself, become a member of our growing network of citizen scientists!
With a large number of humpback whales and killer whales present close to the coast of Northern Norway for an extended period of the year, the public interest to see and experience the whales has been, and is, huge. Many local companies offer whale watching trips and the whales can be viewed from land in several areas. Many people, both visitors and locals, naturally bring cameras with them to take photos of the whales as a memory of their trips.
Did you know that your photos can provide important information about the whales and help us to understand the ecology and movements of the whales? Photos of the tail-flukes of individual humpback whales are unique and can be used as fingerprints to track their movements. Through accumulation over time of new images of known individuals, or images of new individuals, it is possible to create sighting histories that tell a story of where and when the whales spend their time.
Since the establishment of the North Norwegian Humpback Whale Catalogue (NNHWC) in 2010, our network of citizen scientists, who contribute with their photos, has grown to more than 150 different persons or organizations comprising of whale watching companies, fishermen, school-classes, other researchers, kayakers, wildlife guides, tourists, weekend-hikers as well as some of the region’s most respected wildlife photographers.
By submitting your fluke photos to our ID-database ("Register a new sighting") you can become a member of our network of citizen scientists yourself and contribute directly to our research.
In our work, we in the HVALID-team have had the pleasure to meet people of all ages and professions who, like us, share a deep interest and concern about the marine life of the oceans. All have contributed in a very profound way and we are very proud to have so many dedicated people on our team!
Together, through HVALID, we hope to to be able to raise the awareness and interest for marine research in the region. By publishing our photo ID-catalogue online we wish tomake our work more accessible to the public and the participants and to inform about what kind of research on large whales that is conducted in the region and how it is communicated and used both on a regional and international level.
Welcome to the team and to our network of citizen scientists!