Fin whale tracked by satellite off Iceland

TitleFin whale tracked by satellite off Iceland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsWatkins, William A., Sigurjonsson Johann, Wartzok Douglas, Maiefski Romaine R., Howey Paul W., and Daher M. A.
JournalMarine Mammal Science
EndNote Rec Number7792

The population of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) west and southwest of Iceland is concentrated during summer along the edge of the continental shelf from approximately 62”30’-66”N and 24”~3O”W (Rorvik et dl. 1976, Sig- urjonsson 1988). In 1980 a fin whale was tracked by means of 30-MHz radio tags from this area near Iceland to waters off Greenland from 25 June-5 July (Watkins et al. 1984), confirming mixing of whales between the two regions (Sigurjonsson and Gunnlaugsson 1985, Gunnlaugsson and Sigurjdnsson 1989), also indicated in earlier mark/recapture experiments (JBnsson 1965, Riirvik et al. 1976). The sightings and catch data (Sigurjonsson 1995) consistently show a marked drop in abundance of fin whales off Iceland after early August.
To evaluate further the movements of fin whales off Iceland, a late-season fin whale was tracked by satellite from 12 August to 25 September 1994. For this 45-day track, a satellite transmitter was instalied in a housing similar to that used in the previous open ocean tagging of the Iceland fin whale (Watkins et af. 1984). This 1.9-cm-diameter and 27-cm-long tag implants at a low angle with less than 12-cm perpendicular tissue penetration and with a 43- cm antenna remaining external (Watkins 1979, Watkins et al. 1980). The system allows tagging at distances of 30-40 m from larger vessels at sea. Previous uses of these tags on six whale species, including fin whales, dem- onstrated that the tags are ignored, they cause no apparent tissue trauma, and they do not affect behavior (Watkins and Tyack 1991).
A fin whale approximately 16 m in length was tagged from a distance of about 25 m on 12 August 1994 at 1750 approximately 150 km west of Iceland (64”OO’N, 27”25’W). The satellite tag was implanted on the whale’s back about 4 m back of the blowhole and 10 cm to the right of the midline, with the antenna projecting posteriorly at an angle of 30” (Fig. 1). During higher whale surfacings, this tag position allowed the antenna to clear the water long enough to ensure an acceptable signal for reception by a passing satellite.