Marine Mammals

in Norway

Through our research since 2003 we found 13 different species of marine mammals in the Vestfjord:

Northern Fin whale

Balaenoptera physalus

Northern hemisphere population migrates yearly between equatorial regions (e.g. Azores) and the Barents Sea. They arrive at the coast of northern Norway in June-July and leave after the herring feast in February. In the Vestfjord, fin whales are seen during the months June-September either solitary, mother calf pairs or in groups of more than 15 individuals.

Group formation: Solitary-gregarious (2-15 loose, feeding groups > 100)
Size: males 18-20, females 20-25 m, calf 6.5 m
Weight: 40-80 t, calf 1.8 t
Spout: ca. 6 m, narrow
Age: 90-140 yrs
Sexual maturity: 6-12 yrs
Physical maturity: 20-30 yrs
Gestation: 11 months, 2-3 yrs between births
Weaning: 6-7 months
Diet: small schooling fish, squid, crustaceans (incl. copepods, krill).
Distribution: Northern and Southern hemisphere sub-species, cosmopolitan from tropic to Polar Regions
Population size: global ca. 100.000-190.000, heavily exploited
Conservation Status: Endangered A1d ver 3.1, Pop. trend: unknown
Threats: Vessel collisions, whaling (Iceland, Greenland, Japan), plastic pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), over fishing (e.g. krill in Antarctica)

Humpback whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

Norway: Migrate from breeding grounds in Cape Verden or the Caribbean to feeding grounds northern Norway and the Barents Sea, first animals arrive in northern Norway end of May and leave latest in February (after feeding on herring).

Group formation: Solitary – gregarious (mother-calf pair/male escort, larger feeding groups)
Size: males 13-14 m,  females 15-16 m, calf 6 m
Weight: males 28 t, females 33 t, calf 2 t
Spout: 3-6 m
Age: 45-100 yrs
Sexual maturity: males 7 yrs, females 5 yrs
Physical maturity: ca. 20 yrs
Gestation: 11-12 mths, with 2-3 yrs in between
Weaning: 6-7 months
Diet: Krill, small schooling fish such as Atlantic herring, Atlantic salmon, capelin, and American sand lance, as well as Atlantic mackerel, pollock, and haddock in the North Atlantic.
Distribution: Worldwide with 4 populations, in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Southern Oceans
Population size: global ca. 80.000, heavily exploited (90% reduced)
Conservation Status: Status: Least Concern ver 3.1, Pop. trend: increasing
Threats: Vessel collisions, whaling (Greenland, Japan, Caribbean island Bequia in the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines), plastic pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing

Minke whale

Balaenoptera acutorostrata

Norway: Arrives in early summer (April) and can be seen until fall (some even in winter), migration routes unknown.

Group formation: Solitary
Size: males 6-8 m, females 7-9 m, calf 2.5 m
Weight: males 4 t, females 5 (10) t, calf 400 kg
Spout: 2 m, hard to see
Age: 50-60 yrs
Sexual maturity: 6-8 yrs
Physical maturity: 18-20 yrs
Gestation: 10 mths, every 2 years
Weaning: 5-10 months
Diet: Krill in the northern areas, but also herring or capelin
Distribution: Cosmopolitan species, common minke whales are commonly seen during summer months in the northern Atlantic, but the migration patterns are unknown. 
Population size: North Atlantic stock (Northeast Atlantic, Central North Atlantic, West Greenland, and Canadian East Coast.) ca. 182.000, heavily exploited
Conservation Status: Least Concern ver 3.1, Pop. trend: stable
Threats: Vessel collisions, whaling (Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Japan), plastic pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing

With this video we demonstrate the waste of a highly intelligent and long-lived animal, which was shot for commercial reasons. We oppose whaling and sealing in the world!

Whaling in Norway from Ocean Sounds on Vimeo.

Sperm whale

Physeter macrocephalus

Norway: only males are seen all year round in feeding grounds along the continental shelf (from northern Norway to Svalbard), in the Vestfjord June-September.

Group formation: Matrilineal groups (<12) male bachelor groups /solitary males
Size: males 15-18, females 11, calf 4 m
Weight: males 40-50 t, females 14 t, calf 1t
Spout: 2 m at 45° angle, second deepest diver 90 min 2200 m
Age: >80 yrs
Sexual maturity: males 18 yrs, females 9-13 yrs
Physical maturity: males 50 yrs
Gestation: 14-16mths, 4-20 yrs in between
Weaning: 19-42 mths
Diet: mostly squid, octopuses, some fish
Distribution: Cosmopolitan, prefers ice free waters deeper than 1000m, continental shelf or canyons
Population size: unknown, heavily exploited (67% reduced)
Conservation Status: Vulnerable A1d ver 3.1, Pop. trend: unknown
Threats: Vessel collisions, whaling (Japan, Indonesia), plastic pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing

Killer Whales or Orca

Orcinus orca

Part of the Norwegian spring-spawning herring (ca 3,5 Million tons) migrates every year closer to the coast of northern Norway to spend the winter. In January-February they travel further south to their spawning grounds along the Norwegian coast. They spend the rest of the year in the open sea and return to northern Norwegian coast the following fall. Killer whales feed on this herring stock and follow them all year round, some pods spend the summer months inside fjords and feed on salmon, local herring, mackerel and marine mammals. The seasonal migration pattern of herring is known to go through major changes. The wintering grounds were in offshore waters in the Norwegian Sea until the late 1960’s. Following a collapse in the herring stock due to over fishing, the wintering grounds moved into the fjord system in northern Norway. Currently the wintering grounds are in Tromsoe, Senja and Andfjorden from the end of October until March. Large amounts of killer whales, humpback whales and fin whales aggregate during this time in those fjords.

Killer whales can be seen in Lofoten from May-September where they typically feed on salmon, herring and mackerel.

Toothed whale, largest dolphin, distributed all over the world, total numbers unknown.
Age: Females 80-103 yrs; males 50-60 yrs
Size: Fully grown after 20-25 yrs. Females 5.8 m (max. 7.9 m), dorsal fin 0.8 m;
males 6.6 m (max. 9.1 m), dorsal fin 1.5-2 m.
Weight: Male 4-5.500 kg, female 2.5-5.000 kg
Sexual maturity: 8-17 yrs. when 5.5-6.1 m long (females 15 yrs, males 15-20 yrs)
Physical maturity: males 25 yrs, females 15 yrs
Reproduction: One calf every 3-4 years, gestation ca. 16-17 months with an arrested development from July-September. Birth can happen all year, but there is a peak in late fall/early winter. A female gives birth to 4-6 calves over a period of 25 years until ca. 40 yrs old. After reproduction, females live for another 20 or more years, probably to take care of their offspring and group. Newborn killer whales are 1.8–2.2 m long and weigh ca. 180 kg. The mother gives milk to the young for more than 1 year.
Group formation: Killer whales have very strong social bonds. The young of both sexes never leave their mother and live in small family groups together all their lives. This way the males in a group are not the fathers of the young but the brothers, cousins or uncles.
Smallest group consists of 6-15 animals, a matrifocal group, which consist of a mother and her offspring (both gender).
Clan: Matrifocal groups with similar vocal dialects and members that are related to each other.
Community: Several groups that have been observed together at least once. Members of different communities seem not to travel with each other and do not interbreed (e.g. southern and northern resident whales in British Columbia, Canada).
Population: min. 50 000
Conservation Status: Data Deficient ver 3.1, Pop. trend: unknown

Travelling: Whales moving with all animals in the group facing the same direction, either in a line or in groups.
Feeding: Killer whales have a variety of prey (from fish to marine mammals) and seem to specialize if nutritious prey is available. In Norway, killer whales feed mostly on herring, but they also feed on salmon, mackerel, birds and seals.
However, there are different reported strategies to capture herring:

  1. Carousel feeding: Whales herd herring into tight ball close to surface and stun them with tail slaps. Fish jumping and scales, pieces of fish and stunned herring can be observed on the surface.
  2. Subsurface feeding: whales swim back and forth in a limited area, activity of animals on surface, such as porpoising and tail slaps (also in mackerel feeding).
  3. Travel feeding: During traveling in a line in loose formations, they stop occasionally to feed individually.
  4. Seine fishing feeding: Killer whales also follow fishing boats seining for herring and feed on the discarded fish of these operations. This behavior occurred and increased during the last years, due to an increase in herring catch quotas and fishing vessels.
  5. Salmon feeding: groups scans a fjord by echolocation in loose formation, catches happen individually or in small groups, breaches to kill the salmon from above are common.

Socializing (they are always social!): Whales are engaged in variety of physical interactions and aerial behaviors such as breaching, spy hopping, headstands, lob tailing and flipper slaps. Rolling around, chasing each other, and sexual behaviour, distance between individuals within one body length or direct body contact.
Resting: Whales float motionless at the surface for a few minutes, or swim slowly in tight groups, diving and surfacing in a regular pattern. Resting whales should be left alone.
Communication
Killer Whales depend on vocal communication for social interactions, navigation and food location, and therefore produce a variety of sounds: Clicks are predominantly used for echolocation
Whistles occur when whales are in close proximity to each other and stereotyped whistles may be important for close range coordination and maintaining interactions. Calls are used for both close and distant range communication. Calls are stereotypical pulsed sounds that are often characterized by two independently modulated frequency components: a low frequency component (LFC) that has most of its sound energy below 10 kHz, and an upper-frequency component (UFC), which consists of a fundamental frequency ranging from 2 to 12 kHz with sidebands ranging to 100 kHz.
They also produce buzzes and squeaks in the mid frequency range, which often accompany calls.
For a detailed description you can read Heike’s PhD thesis:
“Vocal repertoire of two matrilineal social whale species:
Long-finned Pilot whales (Globicephala melas) and Killer whales (Orcinus orca) in northern Norway”, Heike Vester
2017 University of Goettingen, Germany

Respectful Whale Watching

Threats: Whaling (Indonesia, Greenland), plastic pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing, captivity.

Long-finned Pilot whale

Globicephala melas

Norway: all along the Norwegian coast, seen regularly inside the Vestfjord. High peak season from May-September for group gatherings, breeding and feeding.

Group formation: Matrifocal groups (5-15) several matrilineal groups (size 50-200)
Size: males 7.8 m, females 5.8 m, calf 1.8 m
Weight: males 2.3 t, females 1.3 t, calf 100 kg
Age: males 40 yrs, females 60 yrs
Sexual maturity: males 12-15 yrs, females 6-15 yrs
Gestation: 12-15 mths, 3-5 yrs in between births
Weaning: 27 months or longer (up to 10 years)
Diet: squid (cephalopods) and some fish
Distribution: Two sub-species: North Atlantic (Globicephala melas melas) widespread to at least 68° N, and the Southern Hemisphere (Globicephala melas edwardii) from 19–60° S. They do not share the warmer waters with short-finned pilot whales.
Conservation Status: Data Deficient ver 3.1, Pop. trend: unknown
Threats: whaling (Faeroe Islands, Japan, Greenland), plastic and chemical pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing, captivity.

Seismic surveys used to find oil, gas and deep sea minerals are one of the biggest problems in the sea nowadays, especially the coats of Norway is full of such surveys during the summer months when most whales migrate, feed and breed there! These extremely loud sounds (SL 260dB) can killer marine mammals directly or scare them away on longer distances, these signals can be heard over 3000km away!

This video demonstrates seismic surveys 300-500km away and pilot whales in the Vestfjord:

Atlantic white-sided dolphin

Lagenorhynchus acutus

Atlantic white-sided dolphin sounds are, like many dolphins, comprised of whistles and clicks. In Norwegian they are known as “kvitkjeving”, are regular guests in the Vestfjord and Lofoten, reaching Vesteraalen and the main land. We have been observing their migration and distribution as well as feeding and social behavior since 2006, which also includes taking and collecting pictures for Photo-ID and recording their sounds for vocal repertoire studies.

Group formation: Social groups/fission fusion (size 30-500)
Size: males 2.8 m, females 2.4 m, calf 1.2 m
Weight: 180-230 kg
Age: males 22 yrs, females 27 yrs
Gestation: 11 months
Sexual maturity: males 7-11 yrs, females 6-12 yrs
Diet: Atlantic Herring (Clupea harengus), Atlantic Mackerel (Scomber scombrus), Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua), Smelts (Osmeridae spp.), Sand Lances (Ammodytidae spp.), several types of squid (Teuthida spp), Silver Hake (Merluccius bilinearis), Red Hake (Urophycis chuss), and Cephalopods, mostly Long Fin Squid (Loligo pealeii)
Distribution: endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean, cold temperate to subpolar waters from about 35°N in the west and the Brittany coast of France in the east, north to southern Greenland, Iceland, and southern Svalbard. They have been sighted year round in the deep waters in the North Sea. They move to northern latitudes during warmer months and closer to shore in the summer and offshore during the winter. They are oceanic dolphins located near the continental shelf, slope, canyon waters, and concentrate in areas of high seafloor relief, more densely in deeper areas and sometimes near the coast including fjords or inlets. Little is known about the northern limitations of their distribution.
Norway: along the Norwegian coast mostly in the north, does not overlap with Atlantic white-beaked dolphins, regular visitors to the Vestfjorden, especially June-September (with mackerel), often seen with pilot whales.
Population: > 100 000
Conservation Status: Least Concern ver 3.1, Pop. trend: unknown
Threats: whaling (Faeroe Islands, eastern Canada, Greenland), plastic pollution, pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing.

Basically nothing is known about this species in northern Norway and we are the first to investigate their biology in this area. Our recordings of Atlantic White-sided Dolphin sounds are quite unusual. 
We have finished a baseline study, which contains distribution maps and Photo-identification catalog with re-sightings of individuals to find out whether we have a resident population in this area. In addition we will create a vocal repertoire catalog and describe their different sounds, before going into more detailed analysis of stereo-typed whistles and calls.
It is difficult to find the dolphins and we depend on the help of others to send us reports and pictures in order to cover the complete population. We ask you therefore to help us, if you see dolphins please tell us and share your pictures or videos with us!
Atlantic white-sided dolphin are easily recognizable through its yellow stripe along its side. However if you find the other common species, the white beaked dolphins (“kvitnos”), we are equally interested, since it seems that they never overlap their areas.

People working on this project:

Here is a video from 2014, the first ever to reveal Atlantic white sided dolphins hunting for mackerel in Norway!!

Atlantic white beaked dolphin

Lagenorhynchus albirostris

Norway: offshore along the Norwegian coast, Barents Sea, does not overlap with Atlantic white sided dolphins, not often seen inside the Vestfjord (we have seen it only once in 10 years!).

Group formation: Social groups/fission fusion (size 5-50)
Size: males 3 m,  females 2.3 m,  calf 1 m
Weight: 180-350 kg,  calf 40 kg
Age: unknown
Gestation: 11 mths
Sexual maturity: 7-12 yrs
Diet: fish, such as herring, mackerel, squid
Distribution: endemic to North Atlantic Ocean, cold temperate to subpolar waters from northern coast of France in the east, north to southern Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard.
Population: > 100 000
Conservation Status: Least Concern ver 3.1, Pop. trend: unknown
Threats: whaling (Faeroe Islands, eastern Canada, Greenland), plastic pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing.

Harbour porpoise

Phocoena phocoena

Norway: all along the Norwegian coast inside fjords, local populations, in the Vestfjord many individuals are seen throughout the year in the same area.

Group formation: Solitary – mother-calf pairs
Size: 1.4-1.9 m,  calf 67–85 cm
Weight: males 61 kg, females 76 kg, calf 6-10 kg
Age: 10 yrs
Gestation: 11 mths
Sexual maturity: females 3-4 yrs
Diet: small pelagic schooling fish such as herring, capelin, sprat.
Predators: Grey seals, Bottlenose dolphins, Killer whales
Distribution: North Atlantic, North Pacific and the Black Sea, with several subspecies, they prefer temperate and subarctic waters, live in fjords, bays, estuaries and harbors.
Population: > 100 000
Conservation Status: Least Concern ver 3.1, Pop. trend: unknown
Threats: whaling (Faeroe Islands, Greenland), chemical and plastic pollution, man-made noise impacts (seismic surveys, military sonar), entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing.

Grey seal

Halichoerus grypus

Norway: small colonies along the coast, in Lofoten only few gathering places during summer and breeding places in the winter, around Henningsvaer 5-10 grey seals gather every summer on a small island.

Group formation: Gregarious groups
Size: males 2.5-3.3 m, females 1.6-2 m, calf 90-105 cm
Weight: males 170-310 kg, females 100-190 kg, calf 10-18 kg (born September-November)
Age: males 25 yrs, females 35 yrs
Gestation: 11 mths
Sexual maturity: males 8-10 yrs, females 3-5 yrs
Diet: Generalist feeder, variety of fish and invertebrates
Distribution: 3 populations, North east and west Atlantic, with colonies along the coast of US and Canada, UK, Ireland, Iceland, Norway and the Baltic Sea.
Population: ca 50 000
Conservation Status: Least Concern ver 3.1, Pop. trend: increasing
Threats: seal hunting (Norway, Sweden, Finland), chemical and plastic pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing.

Walrus

Odobenus rosmarus

Norway: there used to be walrus colonies in Norway but they were driven to extinction. Nowadays only males migrate to the Norwegian coast for feeding during the summer months and single males can be seen on a rare occasion, whereas females and calves stay in colonies in the Arctic (Svalbard). In 10 years we have seen 2 male walruses in Lofoten, one of them was shot by the salmon aquaculture, even though walruses do not feed on salmon!

Group formation: Gregarious groups
Size: 2.2 – 3.6 m, calf 1-1.4 m
Weight: males 900 kg, females 400-560 kg, calf 33-80 kg (born April-June)
Age: 40 yrs
Sexual maturity: males 15 yrs, females 7-8 yrs
Gestation: 15-16mths (3 yrs in between births)
Weaning: 1-5 years
Diet: > 60 genera of marine organisms, including shrimp, crabs, tube worms, soft corals, tunicates, sea cucumbers, various mollusks, and even parts of other pinnipeds, but prefers benthic bivalve mollusks – clams.
Distribution: Atlantic Population lives in the Canadian Arctic, across Greenland, Svalbard, and the western part of Arctic Russia, within 8 sub-populations.
Population: Atlantic walrus less than 20 000
Conservation Status: Data Deficient ver 3.1, Pop. trend: unknown
Threats: seal hunting (native Arctic people), tourism, chemical and plastic pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing, global warming.

Harbour seal

Phoca vitulina

Norway: small colonies along the coast, in Lofoten no breeding colony exists, only individual harbor seals can be seen feeding.

Group formation: Gregarious groups on haul-out places, alone at sea
Size: males 1.9 m, females 1.7 m, calf 65-100 cm
Weight: males 70-150 kg, females 60-110 kg, calf 8-12 kg
Age: males 20-25 yrs, females 30-35 yrs
Gestation: 10-11mths
Sexual maturity: males 6-7 yrs, females 4-5 yrs
Diet: Generalist feeder, variety of fish and invertebrates
Distribution: North Atlantic and North Pacific with local populations. Mostly found in coastal waters.
Norway: small colonies along the coast, in Lofoten no breeding colony exists, only individual harbor seals can be seen feeding.
Population: 350 000 – 500 000
Conservation Status: Least Concern ver 3.1, Pop. trend: stable
Threats: seal hunting (Norway, UK, Iceland, Greenland, US), illnesses, chemical and plastic pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing.

European otter

Lutra lutra

Norway: common along the coast of Norway

Group formation: Solitary territorial, females with 1-4 cubs
Size: 57-95 cm
Weight: 7-12 kg
Age: 16 yrs
Gestation: 60-64 days (non-seasonal breeders)
Sexual maturity: females 2.5 yrs
Diet: large variety of prey species (fish, invertebrates) but learn preferred prey from their mothers.
Distribution: most widely distributed otter species, from parts of Asia and Africa and across Europe.
Population: unknown
Conservation Status: Near Threatened ver 3.1, Pop. trend: decreasing
Threats: chemical and plastic pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, over fishing.

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