Student - September 11, 2014

‘We had to get very close to the whales’

Who? Isolde Puts, MSc Marine Biology
What? Four months of research on water quality
Where? In the bay at Húsavík in Iceland

‘Everyone in Húsavík does something that has to do with whales. In the summer, countless humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins and killer whales gather there. It is a spectacle which attracts a lot of visitors: artists, researchers and large numbers of tourists. No one knows why the animals come every year to precisely this bay. 

When I heard about the plan to build a dam across one of the two rivers, I wondered how that would affect the ecosystem. Although the population and the behaviour of the whales are being studied in detail, not very much is known about the ecology. So I set up a study myself. 

I took three suitcases full of measuring equipment from Wageningen along with me in the plane, in the hope of finding an influx of nutrients from the river in the bay. I got permission to go out every morning on an old fishing boat that takes tourists on tours. The captain stayed still for a few minutes at the spot where I wanted to take measurements that day. Whilst aboard I became closely acquainted with the moods of the sea. 

At the height of the summer, the sun no longer went down at all and it was hard to sleep. There was only one bar and there were a lot of drunkards. And there were other people who liked to drive around at night. A couple of times I got to accompany a Japanese researcher who went out at night to stick measuring instruments on whales. That was terribly exciting because we had to get very close to the animals in a zodiac (a small rubber dinghy). 

Otherwise, it was a sleepy place, but I loved it. I knitted two jumpers and three headbands. There is enough work here for other Master’s students. The ecosystem needs to be studied in more depths, looking for instance at the way nutrients come up from deeper layers of the ocean. I would recommend it to everyone; it is a very beautiful area.’

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  • Yavanna

    Wat een leuke meid ben je toch!

  • Anna

    Mooi Isolde!!