For this instalment, Anja Reckendorf, a research assistant at WDC North America, gives her personal reflection on an amazing week.
Anja. An outstanding week just came to an end and I am not sure if I can successfully describe all the amazing experiences that we had, but I will give it a try. In a nutshell, the first ever WhaleFest in Iceland, was a combination of whale watching trips with programme lectures from many top whale experts as well as time to explore the beautiful Icelandic countryside. For the past three years, herring have chosen the fjord outside the small fishing village of Grundarfjörður as their safe winter port and with them came the orcas to feed on them. This phenomenon provides a golden opportunity to see the large number of orcas swimming extremely close to shore in the fjord. WhaleFest included three whale watches with Laki Tours in Grundarfjörður and for me, a fairly experienced whale watcher, it was amazing to see these magnificent animals in such large numbers and close proximity to the boat and shore. They didn’t seem to be bothered by us watching them at all and a calf even chose to check us out and swim by the boat only two metres away! We were thrilled! I don’t know how to put my euphoria into words. We got so spoiled on these trips, it was unbelievable!
The evenings were filled with great talks from world renowned specialists in their fields. We were very lucky to hear awe-inspiring lectures from Erich Hoyt (orca expert and marine conservation champion, WDC), Rob Lott (WDC), Vassili Papastavrou (IFAW), Sigursteinn Másson (IFAW Iceland) and Dr Filipa Samarra (Marine Research Institute, Iceland). Being able to meet with these well-known cetacean researchers and conservationists, to hear about their amazing work and go out on the boat with them to see orcas – tons of orcas – was an absolute once in a lifetime experience! We also had the opportunity to learn from local “heroes” and specialists such as Ragnar Sigurdsson (world-renowned Icelandic photographer), Gisli Olafsson (founder of Laki Tours), Ásbjörn Bjorgvinsson, (Chairman & founder of Húsavík Whale Museum) and Maria Bjork Gunnarsdottir (Elding Whale Watching, Reykjavík). Being educated about orca research, acoustic and behavioural studies, whale watching tourism in contrast to whaling, threats that cetaceans face around the world and possible solutions to various problems, was a very valuable bonus for all participating guests. We all learned a lot and were very honoured to meet these wonderful people!
It was a fantastic week with lots of fun, interesting facts, beautiful nature and a bunch of great people that came together to share their love of whales. Thanks again to all the amazing lecturers, especially to Erich Hoyt for being part of this extraordinary experience; to Laki Tours for being so conscientious around the orcas and for providing very responsible yet astonishing whale watches to us and finally to Alexa and Cathy from Discover the World for making this amazing event happen! It was a blast!
Erich Hoyt and Rob Lott