Skip to content
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Fundraising
  • Green Whale
  • Kids blogs
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling
An orca named 'Hulk' off Caithness, Scotland

My amazing week watching orcas in Scotland

Orca Watch's 10th anniversary event in the far north of Scotland was exhilarating with a...

Faroes dolphin hunt review – disappointing is an understatement

I wasn't alone in hoping that substantial changes would be made as a result of...
Minke whale - V Mignon

We told them this would happen! Time to halt cruel whale experiments

An ill-conceived and so far ill-fated joint US/ Norwegian experiment to test minke whales' reaction...
Sponging dolphin in Shark Bay

Dolphins who catch fish with shells

Kidzone - quick links Fun Facts Our Goals Curious kids Kids blogs Fantastic fundraisers Gallery...
WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...
We need whale poo 📷 WDC NA

Whales are our climate allies – meet the scientists busy proving it

At Whale and Dolphin Conservation, we're working hard to bring whales and the ocean into...
Humpback whale underwater

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

The dolphin and porpoise casualties of the war in Ukraine

Rare, threatened subspecies of dolphins and porpoises live in the Black Sea along Ukraine's coast....

Iceland 2013: Saga #7 – Orca Research

Dr Filipa Sammara from the Marine Research Institute in Reykjavik and her team from the University of St Andrews in Scotland are currently in Grundarfjordur studying the orcas that spend the winter hunting for herring in the local fjords.

Dr Filipa Sammara

Dr Filipa Sammara

Here, Filipa explains the research goals.

The aim of the project is to study how the feeding behaviour of Icelandic orcas changes within the same population. Icelandic orcas feed mainly on herring and appear to follow the herring in its migration during the year. At different times of the year the behaviour of the herring changes, depending on whether it is spawning, in the summer, or overwintering, in the winter. Over the last few years herring has been coming to the waters of Grundafjordur to overwinter and orcas were observed feeding on herring in this area in 2011. By taking photo-identification pictures and making acoustic recordings we can identify the whales that are seen in this area and investigate the sounds they produce during feeding. This data will then be compared to previous information collected in the summer in Vestmannaeyjar to investigate if the same whales are travelling between the two areas to feed on herring and how their feeding behaviour varies at different times of the year. This will greatly increase our knowledge of the Icelandic orca population and how they adapt to changes in their prey behaviour.  

Male orca Westmann Islands

Male orca, Westmann Islands seen in the summer off the south coast of Iceland

Male orca Grundarfjordur

The same male seen in Grundarfjordur on the west coast in the winter.

It is estimated there are 6,618 orcas in Icelandic and offshore waters and a photo-ID catalogue dating back to the 1980’s has identified about 400 individuals. Recent studies along the south coast during the summer months have documented 123 orcas. Here in Grundarfjordur, after just one season, researchers have identified 24 individuals. 14 of these were ‘matched’ as the same orcas seen off the south in summer, two matched whales seen off the Snaefellsnes peninsula In the summer of 2008 and one matched with the orcas that were seen in the fjords in the east of Iceland in the 1980’s.