Contribution starting at $3,950
Exported from Streamline App (https://app.streamlineicons.com)
12 days (avg. $329 a day) Includes accommodations, food, and all related research costs
Ocean Health

Killer Whales and Their Prey in Iceland

Location
Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland Map it
Lead Scientist
Activity Level
Moderate
Accommodations
Single Rooms possible
Couples Rooms possible
House
Internet access
Food
Shared meals
Special diets accommodated
A close up of a killer whale (C) Filipa Samarra
Earthwatch volunteers track killer whales by boat (C) Filipa Samarra
A volunteer photographs a killer whale's dorsal fin for identification (C) Filipa Samarra
A killer whale spy hops (C) Filipa Samarra
Earthwatch volunteers photograph a pod of killer whales (C) David Gaspard
Earthwatch volunteers head out to sea by boat (C) David Gaspard
Earthwatch volunteers watch for killer whale activity from land (C) Filipa Samarra
A close up of a killer whale (C) Filipa Samarra
Earthwatch volunteers track killer whales by boat (C) Filipa Samarra
A volunteer photographs a killer whale's dorsal fin for identification (C) Filipa Samarra
A killer whale spy hops (C) Filipa Samarra
Earthwatch volunteers photograph a pod of killer whales (C) David Gaspard
Earthwatch volunteers head out to sea by boat (C) David Gaspard
Earthwatch volunteers watch for killer whale activity from land (C) Filipa Samarra

Be part of the first long-term study to investigate the diet and behavior of Iceland’s killer whales, collecting information vital to protecting this important apex predator.


Earthwatch volunteers listen for killer whale calls

Scientists have very little information about the population or feeding patterns of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Iceland. These animals play an important role in ecosystems – as top predators, they can affect the size of populations of prey species, which in turn affects the rest of the food chain. These interactions are known as trophic cascades and have the potential to reshape the environment.

Killer whale populations can vary considerably in terms of their feeding strategies, and they adapt these behaviors based on which prey are available. Some populations, for example, feed primarily on herring, while others feed on multiple species, including marine mammals such as whales and dolphins. Prey selection influences killer whale behavior, such as the way they form social groups, interactions between different animals, and their communication systems. Furthermore, prey selection can introduce other threats. For example, killer whales that feed on marine mammals or cod – species that are higher up on the food chain – are likely to consume higher levels of pollutants, which can affect their reproductive rates and the survival of their calves.

This is the first study in Iceland to assess the diet of killer whale populations in an effort to understand potential threats to the species. Data will be collected through observations of the type of prey different whales are feeding on, as well as through the collection of small samples of skin and blubber. These data enable scientists to quantify the level of pollutants in killer whales’ bodies, understand their diets, and record their genetic material.

 

A Typical Itinerary

  • Day 1: Meet, travel to field site
  • Days 2-11: Killer whale surveys by land, behavioral observations by boat, prepare for and process biopsy samples
  • Day 12: Departure

HOW YOU WILL HELP

When you arrive, the researchers will conduct an orientation and brief you on the work you’ll be doing. Field work will begin on the second day, where you will be involved with both land and boat work. Note that boat work will depend on weather. On good weather days, a third of the volunteers will be on the water while the others will be on land conducting surveys and analyzing data. Specific activities include:
Widescan surveys for killer whales from land (C) David Gaspard
Widescan surveys for killer whales

You will use binoculars on land to search for the presence of killer whales in the study area.

Earthwatch volunteers collect behavioral observation data (C) Filipa Samarra
Behavioral observations

On boats, you will help scientists to track and record the behavior of individual killer whales.

Preparation for and processing of biopsy samples
Preparation for and processing of biopsy samples

You will help scientists to collect small skin and blubber samples from killer whales to record their diet, pollutant levels, and genetic material.

Field conditions and research needs can lead to changes in the itinerary and activities. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

FEEDBACK & QUESTIONS

6 Reviews on this Expedition

If you have been on this expedition, others considering attending would love to hear about your experience.
Sharon Heels | August 28, 2019
This trip is an amazing experience. Do not be fooled. Read the briefing notes carefully as your experience is exactly what it says on the tin. You work alongside fellow expeditionists and the scientists on their projects. The accommodation is comfortable but basic with the added bonus of our own rooms. The weather will probably mean most of the time you are office-bound. If you have no scientific experience, you may well have to acclimatize to situations well out of your comfort zone. Full training is given but tasks are not always easy and it can be pressured if there is a lot of activity and you may wonder what you are actually contributing. If you can adapt to that, or are willing to try, this trip will challenge you and will inspire you. It did me. The scientists are very knowledgeable and kind and patient in sharing that. Land and water stations work together to maximize the chances of seeing orcas. There are no guarantees. Organization can be haphazard at times so be prepared. A relaxing holiday it is not. But it is one you will never forget. I did see orca- twice on the boat and several times from the land station. The experience of these beautiful animals in the wild is both humbling and awe-inspiring. The knowledge and experience I have had has not satisfied my love of orca but has inspired me to go further, do more and learn more to build from this experience both for myself, my family and anyone who comes into my sphere of orbit.
Eric Brink | August 16, 2019
Killer Whales and Their Prey in Iceland was one of the best expeditions of the 11 that I have volunteered for to date. Here's what I enjoyed the most: - Working with a group of young, enthusiastic, caring, fun, and knowledgeable scientists. - Working with my fellow volunteers who were all ready and willing to do whatever our scientists needed. - Learning about Whale science and the Icelandic Orca Project. - Going out to sea and watching lots of orcas and other marine mammals up close. It was amazing! - Watching orcas from land (with high powered binoculars) and teaching hikers about our project as they wandered by to take a look. - Going on a multitude of nature hikes and learning the volcanic history of Vestmannaeyjar. - Living in an Iceland home and being immersed in the community and culture during our stay. Some of us even marched in the Icelandic National Day parade on June 17!
Shannon Lynch | December 31, 2018
This review is coming a little late as I went on my Earthwatch expedition this past summer (June 2018). First and foremost, I had an amazing time! If anyone is contemplating signing up for this expedition, DO IT! (I recommend signing up for the wait list if it's full) The researchers on this expedition are incredibly nice and passionate about their work. Truly some of the friendliest people I have ever met and I hope to one day cross paths with them again. Now, for the research. Weather in Iceland plays a big role in whether or not you can do research. There are three different types of research you can do while on this expedition. Land observation, boat observation and office work. I will be honest that for most of my trip we were unable to do boat observation because of the weather. This being said, I would 100% do this expedition again. On days that the weather was poor, the team spent their time doing dorsal fin photo identification with orcas that had been photographed a couple weeks prior. We also helped with classifying orca vocalizations. I found both of these tasks to be challenging (in a good way) and very informative. On days with good weather, we would either do land or boat observation, sometimes both. My most memorable land observation experience is when I was able to track a pod of orcas for two hours using the big binoculars (with the help of other volunteers) while researchers were pinpointing their exact location using a theodolite. And my most memorable boat observation experience was when we encountered a pod of 20 orcas. Volunteers kept eyes on the orcas, communicating to the note taker how many we saw and communicating to the boat captain of their location in proximity to the boat while the photographer took photos. Tips: -Definitely bring rain gear! (rain pants and rain jacket, plus waterproof shoes) *Hat and gloves also recommended -If you get seasick, bring something to counteract it. You will not want to miss out on any boat observations -If light bothers you while you sleep, bring an eye mask. The sun only sets for a couple hours at night and even then it doesn't get completely dark -Come with an open mind and ready to do anything! You may not get to do land/boat observation every day, but there is still much to learn and help out with This expedition is one of the top experiences of my life that I will never forget. Hope all researchers, volunteers and whales are doing well, and thanks for an amazing time :)

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