Leg 3: West Fjords weather not doing us many favours

Isafjardardjup, in Iceland’s remote West Fjords, is a beautiful and wild place; such places at these latitudes generally have a few downsides, the weather is one.  With conversation regularly revolving around Katabatic winds, icepack movement and northeasterly storms, we’ve had to put off any plans to get around the imposing northwest corner, which is the Hornstrandir Peninsula.  As a consequence, we’ve ended up spending perhaps too much time tied to the Isafjordur harbour wall.  The plus side of this situation is that it has given us a rare opportunity to explore this extensive fjord system which runs some 50 km from its opening in the Denmark Strait to the end of the fjord.  Of course, fjords are more complex than that and the southern side alone has six impressive inlets, and we had seen humpback whales in several of these from the IWDG land support team. So our time here has been well spent and on Sat. 16th and 17th June we surveyed much of the area during which we observed stunning birdlife, our first dolphins in the West Fjords, which were presumably white-beaked dolphins, but more relevant to this expedition, we had good numbers of humpback whales.

IWDG Director Brendan Quinn on being storm bound in Isafjordur. Film courtesy Tony Whelan/ Canola Pictures

On Sat. 16th June while travelling east into the Fjord system we had humpbacks in three areas on our 8-hour passage down to our anchorage at Svansvik.  Interestingly, on our return back up the fjord the following day, the animals we found were all largely the same individuals, but we still managed to add one new animal, bringing our tally to five photo Identified humpback whales in the area (images below).  This number seems consistent with conversations yesterday with Prof. Brad Barr, visiting lecturer from the United States to the local University Centre of the Westfjords, who said that a humpback whale photo ID study in these same fjords suggested that in a season there were 5-7 humpbacks routinely using the system. So it seems reasonable to assume that we’ve recorded a representative sample of the humpback whales currently in the area.


All images above photographed 16th & 17th June 2018 P. Whooley & B. Quinn, IWDG.  None of these images are matches with the Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue. All Photo ID images secured during this expedition will be shared with our Icelandic research partners.

Seamus MacGerailt, after 25 years of sailing in waters off the NE Atlantic reflects on his first big whale experience and skippering on the expedition.

Plus, IWDG Director, Brendan Quinn and IWDG Welfare Officer, Paul Kiernan, reflect on seeing three humpbacks!

The land support team are currently down in Reykavik on our next crew changeover, so we say goodbye to Skipper Pat, first mate Seamus, and IWDG’s Paul Kiernan, and Brendan Quinn and we look forward to meeting the new crew and some familiar old heads. They have a long 6-7 hour drive up the west coast. The weather forecast looks better for the coming week, and we hope to set sail tomorrow Tues. 19th June and to get around Hornstrandir. Let’s hope the ice flows have pushed back across towards the Greenland coast and that they’ve taken the polar bears with them.

By Pádraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Officer