Fluke = Fingerprint

30 06 2013
Humpback whales have patterns of black and white pigmentation and scars on the underside of their tails that are unique to each whale, just as fingerprints are to humans. Researchers document the marks on the right and left lobes of the tail, or flukes, and rate the percentage of dark vs. light skin pigmentation from 100 percent white to 100 percent black. For scientific purposes, each humpback whale sighted in the NorthAtlantic is assigned a catalog number. The unique scarring and shading patterns also provide the inspiration for common names. Young animals sighted in a second year. New calves are not named because their coloring and scarring often change dramatically during that first year.
The basics of a fluke.

The basics of a fluke.

Most whales have unique shading, spots, or a scar to aid in identification, but there are three other basic characteristics; fluke shape, trailing edge, and notch shape that help in identification. The shape of the flukes can change to some degree depending on the angle to the surface of the water the instant the photograph was taken. Typically, it is easiest to match photos taken when the flukes are straight up and down at a 90 degree angle to the water. Fluke shape is something that does not change drastically, unless the whale has had an injury. One of the most important areas of the flukes to look at is the trailing edge. The bumps and nicks along this edge remain relatively stable throughout the whale’s lifetime. (There are, of course always exceptions. A whale may lose a part of the trailing edge or even half of a fluke from an entanglement in fishing gear, an injury competing with other males in the breeding grounds, an attack from a predator, or an encounter with a vessel.) The notch, separating the flukes, is the final characteristic to use when trying to match your photograph. Some whales have very narrow notches and some have very wide notches. The notch is useful because the shape seldom changes.

This is the whale we named "Dot" because of the black dots. The central shading along with the dots make this whale easily identifiable. It is the same whale that breached yesterday and is a young whale, new to the bay this year.

This is the whale we named “Dot” because of the black dots. The central shading along with the dots make this whale easily identifiable. It is the same whale that breached yesterday and is a young whale, new to the bay this year.

Whales will also acquire new markings that change the appearance in more subtle ways. Injuries such as rake marks from a killer whale’s teeth, circular barnacle scars, scratches, and new nicks may make a positive match a bit more difficult.





Seasick and Happy

29 06 2013

I was recently informed that these two words should never be used in the same sentence. But it accurately described the situation. The waves were pushing 3 meters and nearly the entire boat was hanging over the side…. throwing up, while joyfully exclaiming, and taking pictures. And the show was worth it, this whale breached over 50 times, rolled around, and slapped its fins on the water!

It is known that Humpback whales breach more frequently in rough seas. No one is entirely sure why they do so, but some think it is to shed parasites or for communication. Thanks to Lauren for the picture!

It is known that Humpback whales breach more frequently in rough seas. No one is entirely sure why they do so, but some think it is to shed parasites or for communication. Thanks to Lauren for the picture!





Worlds Best Hotpot

28 06 2013

At the top of one of the hills in Husavik, you will not only find a spectacular view but also a hotpot. It is an interesting geothermal hotpot, as they are made from discarded cheese containers once used by a nearby farm for cheese-making, with changing rooms fashioned out of an old cargo container. Up there you will meet the locals who are eager to share their homemade wine and a man named Gisli who comes to the hotpot every morning and every night! It is kind of a secret, so I won’t give you directions…

Sitting in the trough-like metal tubs enjoying the sunset!

Sitting in the trough-like metal tubs enjoying the sunset!





Mysterious Mývatn

27 06 2013

The name of the lake (Icelandic mý (“midge”) and vatn (“lake”); the lake of midges) comes from the huge numbers of flies (midges) to be found there in the summer. Mývatn is a shallow eutrophic lake situated in an area of active volcanism in the north of Iceland, not far from Krafla volcano. The lake and its surrounding wetlands have an exceptionally rich fauna of waterbirds, especially ducks. The lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and rootless vents (pseudocraters).

One of the most bizarre attractions in the region are the mud pits of  "Hverarond", which are so hot that they actually boil. The hot spring area named Hverarond are one of the largest sulfur spring areas in Iceland.

One of the most bizarre attractions in the region are the mud pits of “Hverarond”, which are so hot that they actually boil. The hot spring area is one of the largest sulfur spring areas in Iceland.

2500 years ago eruptions started in the Myvatnssveit area and mountain Hverfjall formed in a major explosive eruption that only lasted for few days. A lot of material came from the crater that mounted the opening and formed what is now a 150 meter high volcanic cone. Only 500 years later a massive eruption started once again in the area. The countryside literally was ripped apart by the giant convulsions of the eruption. The molten lava streamed all over the area and in one place it formed a molten lava lake. The lava lake was partially hardened when the rest of the molten magma was flushed out and out of it were the magnificent formed, but Dimmuborgir are virtually a one giant city of hardened lava formations, arches, spines and cathedrals. The lava flow also created all of the pseudo-craters of the area and also most of the small islands in lake Mývatn.

The unique Dimmuborgir formations.

The unique Dimmuborgir formations.

 





Purple Mountains Magesty

26 06 2013

As we drove across Iceland, we noticed the purple flowered lupine everywhere.  The flower looks at home in this landscape, but was actually introduced in 1945 to lowland areas in the southwest as a means to add nitrogen to the soil and also to function as an anchor for organic matter. Lupine has since flourished here, spreading to other regions like a wildfire, in almost effortless competition with the other species already in residence.While this all sounds highly beneficial to the cause of halting erosion and increasing the volume and quality of soil, the lupine patches tend not to share the arable tracts they create. Critics of this initiative view the flower as an invasive species that is threatening low-growing mosses and other native plants. Regardless of the plant’s ability to enhance or injure, lupine fields inflict a total transformation in plant composition and thus a significant transformation in the landscape.

The lupine has completely covered the hills around Husavik.

The lupine has completely covered the hills around Husavik.





The Oak Boats

25 06 2013

All of the whale watching operators in Husavik use restored oak boats. Tourists can now go out on old Icelandic oak fishing-boats. Regulations concerning both the choice of materials and the strength of these boats, were particularly strict in Iceland. The oak-boats are quiet means of sailing the seas and are more gas efficient.

One of the boats before restoration. In the construction of these oak boats, Icelandic carpenters elevated their craftmanship to a fine art!

One of the boats before restoration. In the construction of these oak boats, Icelandic carpenters elevated their craftmanship to a fine art!

This practice helps preserve the national heritage and support the coastal and maritime culture and customs by renovating both boats and building by the harbor.

The traditional wooden fishing boats  have been carefully restored and adapted to a new role without compromising their original character.

The traditional wooden fishing boats have been carefully restored and adapted to a new role without compromising their original character.





School in a Museum

24 06 2013

The Húsavík Whale Museum is a non-profit organisation, founded in 1997. It’s foremost aim is to provide detailed and interesting information about whales and their habitat. The Whale Museum, along with the University of Iceland’s Research Center forms the educational component to the whale watching trips, enjoyed in Húsavík during the summer months.The emphasis on the species occurring in the North Atlantic. We had our lectures at the museum and used the collection as examples

The museum has a great collection of skeletons. Of course whales are related to hippos and camels... we know this because of the highly reduced hind limbs which are still visible!

The museum has a great collection of skeletons. Of course whales are related to hippos and camels… we know this because of the highly reduced hind limbs which are still visible!

A blue whale calf can drink an astounding 240 liters of milk per day!

A blue whale calf can drink an astounding 240 liters of milk per day!