Killer Whales and their Prey in Iceland
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Wildlife & Ecosystems

Killer Whales and their Prey in Iceland

By studying the feeding behavior of killer whales in Iceland, scientists can better understand potential threats to this species.


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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

This is the first long-term study to look at the diet of killer whales in Iceland as an indicator of their overall health and survival.

Killer whales face a number of threats, including climate change, pollution, and competition with fisheries. To better understand the vulnerability of killer whales in Iceland, scientists need data on their diet and behavior.

Chimpanzee

The data collected will enable scientists to quantify the level of pollutants in killer whales’ bodies, understand their diets, and record their genetic material.

In the 1960s, the population of herring in the Northeast Atlantic (Iceland and Norway) nearly collapsed, largely due to overfishing. At the time, there was rising conflict between fishermen and killer whale populations that were feeding on herring and were reportedly harming fishermen’s nets. Today, the herring stock is managed carefully by the Icelandic government, and there is little competition between populations of killer whales feeding on herring and commercial fishermen whose livelihoods depend on it.

However, killer whales face other threats that are connected to their diet. 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.

By understanding threats to populations of killer whales, scientists can help to establish policies to better protect these animals.

About the research area

Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland, Iceland, Europe & Russia

Daily life in the field

Itinerary

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The Scientists

MEET THE LEAD SCIENTIST

Filipa
Samarra
Lead Investigator of the Icelandic Orca Project

ABOUT Filipa Samarra

Dr. Filipa Samarra is the Lead Investigator of the Icelandic Orca Project. Filipa has spent years studying killer whales and is excited to harness the power of citizen science to collect large quantities of data that will help to better understand and ultimately protect this important apex predator.

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