Killer whale behaviour is highly influenced by its prey selection. By studying the foraging behaviour of different populations, scientists are collecting vital information that can help to protect them.

Scientists have very little information about the population or feeding patterns of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Iceland. These animals play an important role in ecosystems – as top predators, they can change the populations of prey species, which in turn affects the rest of the food chain. These interactions are known as trophic cascades and have the potential to reshape the environment.

Killer whale populations can vary considerably in terms of their feeding strategies, and they adapt these behaviours based on which prey are available. Some populations, for example, feed primarily on herring, while others feed on multiple species, including marine mammals such as whales and dolphins. Prey selection influences killer whale behaviour, such as the way they form social groups, interactions between different animals, and their communication systems. Furthermore, dependence on a particular prey species, whose populations may fluctuate throughout the years, can impact the survival of killer whale populations.

This is the first study in Iceland to assess the diet of killer whale populations in an effort to understand potential threats to the species. Data will be collected through observations of the type of prey different whales are feeding on, as well as through the collection of small samples of skin and blubber. These data enable scientists to quantify the level of pollutants in killer whales’ bodies, understand their diets, and record their genetic material.

Location

Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland

Cost

$5795

Includes all accommodation, meals, insurance and research activities

Duration

12 days

Dates 2023

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Activity Level

Moderate

Lead Scientist

Filipa Samarra

Accomodation

House
Internet access