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!