söndag 18 december 2011

Humpback Whales

Right now, the traditional and important fishing for herring is in full swing along the coast of Northern Norway and it is a very special sight to see the returning fishing-boats in the fjords during the blue light of the polar darkness.The herring does not only attract the fishermen, but also killer whales and humpback whales that feast on the fish along the coasts and fjords.

Returning with a catch of herring

As a marine biologist, I started (in a very small scale) to collect pictures for photo-identification of humpback whales in Norway in 2008 - a project that will hopefully one day result in new knowledge on the ecology of humpbacks and give insight into migration patterns between e.g. different feeding grounds. In co-operation with other biologists such data may also reveal migration routes between the feeding grounds in the north and the overwintering grounds in the southern hemisphere.

The most widely used tool for studying humpbacks is very simple and straight-forward. The technique basically involves getting good enough pictures of the flukes of the whales that can be stored in a database. Because no two humpbacks look exactly the same (the flukes have various patterns and markings/scars) the pictures can be used as human fingerprints to identify individual whales. If enough pictures from various places are collected over long time, the same individuals may be seen several times and one can start to get an idea of e.g. migration patterns and the population size.

The fluke of a humpback whale is like a human fingerprint and not two flukes look the same 

All projects that aim to understand more about cetaceans through photo-identification are long-term projects and a lot of time and patience is needed before any useful body of data is collected, but one has to start somewhere.

Yesterday, me and a couple of good friends went out with a local fisherman (thank you so much for all your help O-G, you were amazing and did not disturb the whales once!), and managed to locate five different humpbacks on the outside of Kvaløya, and although the whales were clearly resting at the surface for most of the time, I could add at least four "new" individuals to the database. Not only the fluke, but also the dorsal fin is highly characteristic and will be included in the database.

The dorsal fins of two different humpback whales (collected in 2008) outside the coast of Senja

Humpback Whale outside Kvaløya, 17 December 2011


Humpback Whale film from outside Kvaløya, Troms

If anyone observes humpbacks along the Norwegian coast and/or have pictures that may be useful for photo-identification, I would be very happy to get in contact with you and you can always reach me on: info@northernlightsphotography.no

Read more about the humpbacks in the Norwegian News NRK Troms og Finnmark

söndag 11 december 2011

Total Lunar Eclipse indeed !

The night before the total lunar eclipse was cold and crystal clear with excellent seeing conditions, so my hopes were high for getting a spectacular view of the eclipse the next day. As usual with eclipses, however, unexpected clouds tend to roll in just in time for the eclipse and naturally they did. It was not even possible to guess where the moon should have been in the sky, so in a way, I guess one can call it a sucessful total lunar eclipse - I couldn`t see a thing!

But then, when the totality was over, I could briefly glimpse the eclipsed moon for about 10 minutes. This is also very typical eclipse-behaviour. When you give up, the clouds play a little with you and give you back some hope and below is my best, and only, shot of the event before the clouds rolled in again.

The day after the eclipse, the sky was crystal clear here in Tromsø again and I`m sure the clouds were having a good laugh up in the heaven (probably over some other sky-watcher who went out to enjoy the night sky), but all in all, it`s good to know that some things never change.

Besides, maybe the clouds have decided that they have had their fun and that they give us some clear skies for the upcoming Geminid meteor shower! The job of spoiling a good meteor shower is after all the job of the moon, which will be almost full.

The Geminids are usually extremely good though, and the chances are high for some bright fire-balls to be seen even in bright moonlight!

måndag 5 december 2011

Total Lunar Eclipse

Next Saturday, on the 10th of December, a total lunar eclipse will be visible in all of Norway and in large parts of northern Europe, North America and Asia.

Here in Norway, the eclipse will be visible in all of the country. In southern Norway, however, the eclipse will start before the Moon has climbed over the horizon so the beginning of the eclipse won`t be visible. In Northern Norway the entire eclipse will be visible and the Moon will be relatively high in the north-east during the peak of the eclipse.

The eclipse will start at 13:45 (i.e. first umbral contact) and the moon will be totally eclipsed for almost an hour (51 minutes) between 15:06 - 15:57. The last umbral contact will be at 17.18.

Please note that the times are given in local time for Norway, so for universal time (UT) you will have to subtract an hour, so the totality will therefore be between 14:06 - 14:57 UT.

For details check NASAs lunar eclipse page: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OH2011.html#LE2011Dec10T

The Moon will be good placed in the sky, so there should be plenty of nice photo-opportunities, weather permitting. Below is s picture from the total lunar eclipse in December last year, when thin clouds covered the moon. The next total lunar eclipse in Norway won`t be until 2015, so grap the chance and go out and watch the Moon `disappear` next Saturday afternoon !

Total lunar eclipse of 21 December 2010

Total lunar eclipse of 21 December 2010