On the Expedition
Join an international research team in the spectacular Norwegian Arctic to investigate the behaviors and needs of dolphins and sperm, killer, and humpback whales.
In the far reaches of the spectacular Norwegian Atlantic, whales and dolphins abound. Each day, it is possible to observe large male sperm whales in the deep waters of an underwater canyon just 8 miles from the shore. In the winter, the fjords are an essential feeding area for these mammals. While Norwegian commercial whaling for minke whales is still a reality, there is increasing interest in whale watching – an activity that attracts tourists from around the world. You’ll join a group of researchers in the town of Andenes on the island of Andøya, where you’ll take an active role in studying sperm whales, with a focus on whale migration, behavior, and the interactions of sperm, humpback and killer whales with whale-watching boats.
You’ll start your day aboard a research boat, spending three to five hours learning to observe and identify whale species while recording data on the sea and the whales. You’ll stand on the highest point of the boat, collecting data on whale behaviors, using laser pointers to determine the distance to the whales. By observing sperm whale behavior (deep versus shallow dives, tail slapping, noselifting, breathing intervals), you’ll be able to determine whether whales are disturbed by the proximity of whale watchers. You’ll also listen to sperm whale clicks in real time, helping to record whale sounds. You’ll also photograph whale flukes for identification of individual whales.
Later in the day, you may spend time at the top of the Andenes Lighthouse. You’ll watch the fjord that is located next to Andenes, and have a birds-eye view of the deep-water canyon where sperm whales abound. From this vantage point, using a specialized type of binoculars, you’ll be able to observe the whales regardless of whether whale watchers are present, recording changes in behavior. You’ll then learn how to use specialized software to calculate the positions of the whales. In the afternoon, the team will gather in the office to download the data, review your recordings, and learn how to interpret whale sounds. You’ll also match your whale photos to a large database of individual whales, helping to determine counts of individual sperm whales, pilot whales and killer whales that have visited the canyon, size estimates of the local population of each species, where individual whales have come from, and what types of residency patterns are most common.
Northern Norway is an extraordinarily beautiful place, and your off-hours may be spent in exploration of its natural beauties. During summer months, you’ll enjoy a boat trip to a nearby island when tens of thousands of puffins spend much of the year. You’ll also hike the island in search of foxes, elks and otters, or enjoy a barbecue on a white sandy beach. You will also have an opportunity to meet local Norwegian fishermen and whale watch captains. In the evenings, after dinner, you’ll hear from individual researchers who will share insights into their own findings and interests.
Meals and Accommodations
You’ll stay in a communal house next to the research station, living in single or double rooms. There is internet access in the house and in the neighboring research center. You will have access to grocery stores and shops in the town of Andenes,
Meals will be prepared in a common kitchen. Volunteers will prepare their own breakfasts and pack a lunch for the boat. Evening meals will include volunteer-suggested favorites, as well as traditional Norwegian dishes. Typical Norwegian food includes fresh fish and potatoes. You’ll also have a chance to try a thick fish soup with sour cream, or reindeer meat bought from the indigenous Sami family which bases its subsistence on reindeer herding. More common food, such as chicken or pork, is available, and fresh fruit and vegetables are always available from one of four local supermarkets. Milk, yoghurts and cheese are also available as lactose free and gluten free options, and vegetarian and vegan diets can be accommodated.
About the Research Area
Andenes is located on Andoya Island in the Vesterålen region. It is part of an archipelago in the northern part of the Norwegian Atlantic. The area is spectacular, featuring steep mountains plunging into the sea; numerous fjords and lakes; and – depending upon the time of year – the famous midnight sun, or the incredible Northern Lights. Thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream, the climate in the area is much milder than other areas sharing the same latitude, such as Greenland or the northern tip of Alaska. Vesterålen has relatively mild winters and moderately warm summers. The average temperature in the coldest month, February, is around -2°C, while the average July temperature is 12-14°C.
Visitors to the region will find a wealth of natural and historic attractions, ranging from hiking trails, berry picking and fossil hunting to gallery browsing, shopping and museuming. While local people speak Norwegian, the vast majority are also fluent in English. Just a few of the unique opportunities you’ll have during your stay in Andenes include –
- Learning about the indigenous Sami culture and having a reindeer herding experience during the winter is possible with the local Sami family. The guests can participate in reindeer herding and spend the night in a Sami tent, the lavvo.
- Enjoying a dip in Arctic hot pools, overlooking the ocean and the mountains in Stave on Andøya Island, followed by a swim in the Arctic Ocean.
Learning about the research taking place at the Andøya Rocket Range, which has been a reference center for Northern lights studies and is now researching climate change. A tour through the research centre Alomar, located on Røyken mountain (8 km from Andenes), will be arranged for the volunteers if they have an interest in atmospheric research or taking in an amazing view of Andenes and its surroundings.