Whales of Finnafjörður

At the base of Langanes Peninsula, in the quiet bay of Finnafjörður, we are monitoring cetacean occurrence and the underwater soundscape.

Langanes peninsula is a remote corner of Northeast Iceland is characterised by green meadows, hills and cliffs. The waters around Langanes are mostly crossed by small fishing boats, without many tourist or large commercial vessels.

However, it might be a hotspot for whales.

Fishers have reported large numbers of humpback whales around Langanes, especially in the summer months, and locals and bird researchers have also seen whales from the cliffs. We personally visited Langanes in 2019 and 2021, and saw many humpbacks, minkes, white-beaked dolphins and porpoise south of the peninsula.

This makes sense since these waters seem to be an ideal feeding ground. Two major oceanic currents converge off the peninsula, capelin is known to be abundant and there are no major interruptions by human activity.

Despite this, the region is very understudied. Apart from capelin surveys, the local ecosystem has not been systematically described. Our knowledge of whales in the area is mostly anecdotal. We hope to address this knowledge gap by focusing our research on a small bay called Finnafjörður, on the south side of Langanes.

Soundscape analysis
In August 2021, we deployed a long-term bottom-moored hydrophone in Finnafjörður for one year. After hopefully retrieving the hydrophone in August 2022, we will start to create a baseline understanding of the ecosystem in two ways.

First, we will search for whale vocalisations in our sound recordings to determine the use of Finnafjörður by humpback whales and other cetaceans.

Second, we will perform a more general analysis by assessing the contribution of the following factors to the underwater soundscape:

  • physical sounds (wind, rain, earthquakes, etc.)
  • biological sounds (whales, fish, etc.)
  • anthropogenic impact (small coastal boats, large vessels offshore, etc.).

We are especially interested because of a planned port installation in Finnafjörður. In the next years, new northern ship routes will open due to a warming climate and a melting Arctic. As a result, the bay will be developed to accommodate future vessel traffic in the region. Both the construction of the port and its operation will lead to major changes in the ecosystem of the bay. To monitor this impact, it is essential to collect baseline data from a relatively untouched Finnafjörður prior to construction.