Svalbard baleen whales

In collaboration with Barba, an expedition sailing vessel, we are exploring the behaviour and occurrence of baleen whales in Svalbard. is an expedition sailing vessel based in Stavanger, Norway, and captained by Andreas B. Heide. In summer 2021, Barba set sail on its longest expedition yet, Arctic Sense. Starting from Stavanger, the Barba crew sailed up the Norwegian coast, circumnavigated Svalbard, crossed the Norwegian sea to Jan Mayen and finally sailed south to London, before returning to Stavanger.

We previously collaborated with Barba to collect blow samples in Iceland, 2019, and this was another golden opportunity for data collection. We were especially interested in Svalbard, a key feeding ground for baleen whales. As Arctic sea ice melts, large-scale vessel traffic is predicted to increase dramatically in the region, following the so-called ‘Polar Silk Road’. In collaboration with Andreas and Prof. Marianne Rasmussen from the University of Iceland, we planned a programme of whale research for Arctic Sense. In the field, this was coordinated by Giulia Ercoletti. Despite a whole host of challenges and limited time, the Barba crew collected three data sets that we can use for research purposes.

  1. A long-term hydrophone was deployed for two months off western Spitsbergen, in collaboration with Olli Loisa (Turku University of Applied Sciences). We aim to determine the acoustic occurrence of baleen whales, with a particular focus on blue whales and their call characteristics.
  2. Barba trialled a custom-made towed hydrophone array provided by Jonathan Gordon (University of St Andrews), offering the potential to acoustically survey and detect cetaceans in real time along the survey route. The array was deployed at numerous points throughout the expedition and we will investigate the quality of recordings and the acoustic presence of cetaceans.
  3. Near Svalbard, the Barba crew encountered a large gathering of fin whales and some interesting underwater behaviours. We intend to report these in detail for future reference.

Over the next few months, we’ll start data analysis – stay tuned for further updates!