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Investigating Whales and Dolphins of the Norwegian Arctic

In the arctic waters of Norway, migratory sperm, killer, and beaked whales abound! As a result, whale watching has become increasingly popular and volunteers are needed to assess human impacts on these mammals. Join us under the midnight sun or northern lights to identify and count whale species, and also learn to interpret cetacean behavior and their social calls.

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What to Expect?

Join an international research team in the spectacular Norwegian Arctic to investigate the behaviors and needs of dolphins and sperm, killer, and humpback whales.

In the far reaches of the spectacular Norwegian Atlantic, whales and dolphins abound. Each day, it is possible to observe large male sperm whales in the deep waters of an underwater canyon just 8 miles from the shore. In the winter, the fjords are an essential feeding area for these mammals. While Norwegian commercial whaling for minke whales is still a reality, there is increasing interest in whale watching – an activity that attracts tourists from around the world.

You’ll join a group of researchers in the town of Andenes on the island of Andøya, where you’ll take an active role in studying sperm whales, with a focus on whale migration, behavior, and the interactions of sperm, humpback and killer whales with whale-watching boats. You’ll start your day aboard a research boat, spending three to five hours learning to observe and identify whale species while recording data on the sea and the whales. You’ll stand on the highest point of the boat, collecting data on whale behaviors, using laser pointers to determine the distance to the whales.

By observing sperm whale behavior (deep versus shallow dives, tail slapping, noselifting, breathing intervals), you’ll be able to determine whether whales are disturbed by the proximity of whale watchers. You’ll also listen to sperm whale clicks in real time, helping to record whale sounds. You’ll also photograph whale flukes for identification of individual whales. Later in the day, you may spend time at the top of the Andenes Lighthouse. You’ll watch the fjord that is located next to Andenes, and have a birds-eye view of the deep-water canyon where sperm whales abound. From this vantage point, using a specialized type of binoculars, you’ll be able to observe the whales regardless of whether whale watchers are present, recording changes in behavior.

You’ll then learn how to use specialized software to calculate the positions of the whales. In the afternoon, the team will gather in the office to download the data, review your recordings, and learn how to interpret whale sounds. You’ll also match your whale photos to a large database of individual whales, helping to determine counts of individual sperm whales, pilot whales and killer whales that have visited the canyon, size estimates of the local population of each species, where individual whales have come from, and what types of residency patterns are most common.

Northern Norway is an extraordinarily beautiful place, and your off-hours may be spent in exploration of its natural beauties. During summer months, you’ll enjoy a boat trip to a nearby island when tens of thousands of puffins spend much of the year. You’ll also hike the island in search of foxes, elks and otters, or enjoy a barbecue on a white sandy beach. You will also have an opportunity to meet local Norwegian fishermen and whale watch captains. In the evenings, after dinner, you’ll hear from individual researchers who will share insights into their own findings and interests.

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