Research projects in Garður

In 2010 a research project studying the effects of whale watching on Minke whales in Faxaflói Bay was initiated by PhD student Fredrik Christiansen supervised by Dr Marianne Rasmussen at the University of Iceland and Dr David Lusseau at the University of Aberdeen. Since Minke whales, and other marine mammals, can be seen from Garður at close proximity to the coast, the area provides a great location from where the natural behaviour of the animals can be studied, without potentially disturbing them by having to use boats. From the beginning of June to the end of August, a research team consisting of people from Sweden, Germany, Spain, Italy and Argentina used the new lighthouse on Garðskaga as a platform to observe Minke whales around Garður. A road work theodolite was used to follow individual Minke whales and measure the time and position every time the animal surfaces. By tracking individual Minke whales and looking at the pattern of surface movement and diving, it is possible to conclude if a Minke whale is feeding or travelling, and the time that animals spend in different activities can be estimated. The same data was also collected from onboard whale watching boats in Reykjavik through cooperation with Elding Whale Watching ( By comparing the behaviour of the Minke whales recorded from the whale watching boats, with that of the natural behaviour collected from the lighthouse in Garður, it is possible to measure the effects of whale watching on the behaviour of Minke whales. The data collected in 2010 is currently being processed and analysed and results will be presented on the webpage once they are finalised.
A follow up field season is planned for 2011, where the same behavioural data will be collected from the new lighthouse on Garðskaga to allow a comparison with the previous year. A boat based component might also be added to the project, where the dorsal fins of Minke whales will be photographed from a boat. The shape and scars of the Minke whales dorsal fins is unique, in similarity with a fingerprint from a human, which makes it possible to identify individual animals by photographing the fin. By collecting photos of Minke whales at different time periods, it is possible to investigate the site fidelity of individual whales, and get an estimate of the number of animals which are present in the area. Further, by comparing photos of animals taken in different areas in Faxaflói bay, such as between Garður and Reykjavik, it is possible to investigate movement of animals within Faxaflói
Bay, something that is currently unknown.
For 2011 we welcome people from Garður, as well as tourists, to come up and join us in the lighthouse, to see Minke whales and how we track them. Apart from Minke whales, it is also possible to observe white beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises, seals, basking sharks as well as a range of seabird species from the lighthouse, so it’s well worth a visit.
Fredrik Christiansen
PhD Student in Zoology
University of Aberdeen, UK
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