The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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Research in NAMMCO member countries

All NAMMCO member countries as well as Canada have participated in the NASS and T-NASS surveys, and the pilot whale has been one of the target species (see under Current Abundance and Trends). These surveys are coordinated through the Scientific Committee of NAMMCO. In addition, the Faroe Islands conduct research on ecology, population structure, levels and trends in the accumulation of contaminants and impacts of climate change on pilot whale distribution and abundance.

Faroe Islands

An intensive international research programme on the ecology and status of the long-finned pilot whale off the Faroe Islands and the impact of the fishery on the population was initiated and supported by the Faroese Governement in 1986, under the auspices of the IWC and UNEP (Desportes 1988, 1990, Desportes et al. 1994c). Some of the results were compiled in the first monograph on Northern Hemisphere pilot whales (Donovan et al. 1993).

Following pilot whales movements through satellite tracking

Satellite transmitters have been successfully attached to pilot whales from different schools since July 2000 (Table below). In each case, the schools of whales were driven into a bay, the tags attached to the selected whales, and the entire school driven back out to sea again. The maps below shows the overall movements of the whales from the four last tracking events.

These tagging experiments are very important because they shed light on the extent of the population affected by the Faroese catch. As described under Stock status the effects of the catch are very different if the catch comes from a population restricted to the Faroe Island area or from a population spread over a wider geographical area.

Satellite tagging of long-finned pilot whales off the Faroe Islands PW tagged table



FMNH Pilot movements 2000

2000 (Bloch et al. 2003)

FMNH Pilot movements 2004

2004 (Mikkelsen 2008)

FMNH Pilot movements 2011

 2011 (Mikkelsen, pers. com.)

FMNH Pilot movements 2012 cropped 2012 (Mikkelsen, pers. com.)



Ongoing sampling of pilot whale catches

The measurement of skinn values, which has been used traditionally in Faroese whaling (see under Hunting and Utilisation), continue being recorded. This measure, together with the sex and total body length which have been recorded from most pilot whales caught since 1984, allows researchers to follow trends in the size of the whales landed. The Faroese Museum of Natural History also conducts a small-scale opportunistic sampling of the catch to monitor trends in life history parameters and feeding habits.

On-going biological sampling of pilot whales landed in the Faroe Islands, together with satellite tracking projects and regular sighting surveys are important tools that provide updated information for management to ensure that the pilot whale catch remains being sustainable.

Level of contaminants in pilot whales

Samples of pilot whale tissue are taken regularly by the Environment Agency to examine and follow the levels of heavy metals in the meat and organochlorines in the blubber of the whales.

The focus of the monitoring of muscle and blubber is to elucidate possible changes in concentrations over time in the exposure of the Faroese human population utilizing pilot whale blubber and meat for food. The focus of the monitoring of heavy metals in kidney and liver tissues is to follow the possible risk to the pilot whales of elevated tissue metal concentrations, which are known to impair reproduction in may species.

Since 2008, the monitoring data collected by the Environment Agency are part of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) and are available online, under the heading ENVOFAR. ENVOFAR is a cooperation of Faroese institutions that work sactively to describe and study the environment in the AMAP and CAFF (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna) working groups under the Arctic Council.


 FMNH tagging screwing tag IMG 2680  FMNH Bjarne tagged whale IMG 4430blackwhite 8
PhotoNordlysid4 PWtagging release after

Satellite tagging and release of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands in 2012.
In the middle, scientist B. Mikkelsen, responsible for the tagging project. Photos:Nordlysid