Report of the Celtic Mist's first completed first week of Ireland-Iceland.13th Jun 2018
Ireland to Iceland: Week 1
The first week on the IWDG humpback whale expedition to Iceland was very successful. After a great reception in Reykjavik with the Icelandic Choir Selkorinn welcoming Celtic Mist to Iceland, we headed out into Faxafloi Bay for the short journey to Akranes. Minke whales, white-beaked dolphins and a distant humpback whale were recorded. If we had known how few sightings we were to have during the rest of the week we might have indulged ourselves more!
The weather was very kind with good sea-states during our journey up the west coast. The occasional minke whale was seen, but fleetingly. We were hopeful of seeing killer whales and maybe sperm whales off Olafsvik as this is a well-established whale-watching location. The katabatic winds falling off the Snaefellness glacier whipped the seas up into sea-states 4 and 5 making sighting conditions and progress slow. We used the hydrophone in the deep channel and recorded sperm whales almost continually but apart from a brief sighting of two blows had no good sightings to report. This site is unique for sperm whales as a deep channel runs the closest to the shore of any site in Iceland. It’s only just over 300m deep, still too shallow for sperm whales in Ireland. Killer whales were seen from the Laki tour boat on both days we were in Olafsvik and they sent us the locations, but by the time we made the position the killer whales were gone. They hunt along the 100m contour for herring and are quite mobile. The vessel made its destination Isafjordur with a day to spare. It was the intention to explore the adjacent fjords but the skipper wanted to try and fix the motor from the autohelm. Sightings of both humpback and minke whales were made from the road in Isafjord which is 30nmls from the town of Isafjordur and considered too far to reach.
Despite the lack of sightings, we have had great engagement with both Icelandic people and people from overseas working in Iceland. From the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute to tour operators and guides and visiting scientists, all have given us insights into life in Iceland and whaling and whale-watching issues.
We have completed the crew change with skipper Paul O’Neil and Karen Wilkinson from Inis heading home and Pat Hartigan taking on skipper duties. We hope to round Horn, the most northerly point of Iceland and start making our way along the north coast during the next two weeks.
During the early morning hours of Thursday, 31st May, the IWDG's Celtic Mist arrived into Vestmannaeyjar Harbour in the Westman Islands (pictured left), which is 200 miles south of Reykjavik. After sailing a 1,000 miles in just six days from Dublin, the crew reported a great voyage up, having had "a great experience being away from everything", with a great, if not "slightly crazy" skipper, Liam Quinn! While there were no whale sightings en route, there were sightings of dolphins just north of Ireland. The crew also did a hydrophone survey on the shelf edge to listen for whales and test the equipment.
The crew are now tidying the boat and carrying out maintenance before heading up to Reykjavik, where the crew will changeover this Sunday/Monday before the next leg from Reykjavik to Isafjordur starts.
Photos: left - the crew in Vestmannaeyjar and scenes from the voyage
Check out our crew vlogs about the journey up (just click on the photo to be taken to the video). Left: Liam Quinn, skipper; Middle: crew talk about the journey; Right: Emmet Johnson on sightings