Earthwatch volunteer Jim Stevenson headed to Norway last month on the inaugural Investigating Whales and Dolphins of the Norwegian Arctic expedition. During his time on the Arctic sea, Jim and the rest of the volunteers got up close and personal with a pod of more than 20 killer whales!
Jim’s journey began when he submitted a story to BBC Wildlife’s Nature Writer of the Year contest. Jim’s fishing tale, Miller’s Thumb, beat out more than 160 entries to win the grand prize. He tells the story of catching small fish in a river as a small boy, and how those memories stay with him today. The prize earned him a space on the expedition, and he shared his experience with us.
We’re Surrounded… By Killer Whales!
On Investigating Whales and Dolphins of the Norwegian Arctic, scientists and the research team were on a mission to investigate the behaviors and needs of dolphins and sperm, killer, and humpback whales.
“The research we helped with in Norway was incredible,” Jim said. “We assisted the scientists by recording whale sightings from two whale-safari boats, a ferry, and the Andenes lighthouse, taking photographs and using a GPS and sound recording device to locate the whales.”
Volunteers are conducting whale sound recordings because sperm whales have a complex social life and navigate in the dark using echo-location. “One morning out on the water, we found two sperm whales to add to our data collection,” Jim said. “That same afternoon, aboard the boat, we spotted a humpback whale that stayed on the surface for only minutes at a time.” Jim then described one of the most memorable days of his life. “We then caught sight of a pod of four killer whales that we then followed for over an hour. By the end of the afternoon, we were surrounded by over 20 killer whales that came very close to the boat. I will never forget that afternoon.”
Jim and his team of volunteers are in Norway to increase knowledge of these species in Norwegian waters, and contribute to the conservation of the marine environment. This research will ultimately be shared with the local communities to raise awareness of marine mammal importance and offer practical alternatives to mistreatment of the whales here.
A Stone’s Throw from the North Pole
Volunteers on this expedition stay 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle at the village of Andenes, a point at the end of the island of Andøya. “I tried to research the area ahead of time,” Jim explained, “but neither Google Earth nor the maps that I had showed any detail because it used to be a Cold War naval base. That was exciting for me to learn more about!”
Jim’s home during the expedition, the foot of a lighthouse, was an ideal spot to explore the Arctic flora and fauna of Norway. “With 24 hours of daylight a day, we had plenty of time for sight-seeing,” Jim said. He researched plant life in the area before heading to Norway, and because of his extensive knowledge, was asked to give a talk to the guides and volunteers on the expedition. “I talked about the seabirds we would see, puffins especially. We were all excited about the prospect of seeing these stocky Arctic seabirds!”
Telling of a Whale’s Tale
Jim and the other volunteer’s help researching whales throughout the waters of the Arctic is a tremendous help for Earthwatch scientists on finding ways to protect these fragile species. While writing is what landed Jim in Norway, his writing continued once he got there – this time blogging about his experience in the field. Here is an excerpt:
Our vision of the whale is based on art and literature from a time when the only view of a whole whale from the descriptions from the whaling men themselves. From our world, suspended between ocean and atmosphere, all we can see of a sperm whale is the top of its head and part of its back. This animal is helpless on the surface because it needs to charge its blood with oxygen for fifteen minutes before exhaling all the air from its body and descending to the invisible depths where we cannot follow, for over an hour. So, although we can claim to have seen a sperm whale, we have only just touched the surface.
Read Jim’s full blog, Whale-Spot.
Congratulations, Jim, on your successful writings, and for sharing your stories with the Earthwatch community and beyond!