On-going biological sampling of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands, together with regular sightings surveys and satellite tracking projects are important tools that provide updated information for management to ensure that the pilot whale catch in the Faroes continues to be sustainable.
The Faroese Museum of Natural History is responsible for on-going biological sampling and research on whales in Faroese waters. The sex, skinn values (the skinn is the traditional measurement of value used in Faroese whaling) and total body-lengths have been recorded from most whales caught since 1984, with the assistance of the local district authorities and the locally-appointed officials responsible for evaluating the whales after a catch. In addition, a dedicated dolphin sampling programme is underway, with analysis of samples taken from white-sided dolphins caught in recent years.
Faroese scientific experts participate actively in the NAMMCO Scientific Committee, which provides advice on stock status, ecological issues and other aspects relevant for the NAMMCO Management Committees to make informed decisions on appropriate conservation and management measures for marine mammals in the North Atlantic.
An important aspect of NAMMCO’s scientific work is the coordination of regular sightings surveys for cetaceans across the North Atlantic, which provide crucial information from which to estimate and monitor the stock abundance of different whales species. This is a vital tool in the responsible management of whaling. Such sightings surveys have been conducted since 1987, and NAMMCO has coordinated the three last surveys in 1995, 2001 and mostly recently in 2007. The 2007 survey, known as T-NASS, achieved the broadest coverage of all such surveys to date. The Faroe Islands have participated actively in all these surveys over the years, with comprehensive shipboard coverage across the Faroe Plateau and adjacent areas. For more details, see the T-NASS link at right.
After some years in the planning, satellite transmitters have been successfully attached to pilot whales from three different schools, firstly on four whales in 15 July 2000, again on seven whales in August 2004, and most recently on eight whales in May 2011. In each case, schools of whales were driven into a bay, tags attached to selected whales, and the entire school driven back out to sea again. See the link at right for further details, tracking maps and pictures of the pilot whale satellite tracking project.
Samples of pilot whales tissue are taken regularly by researchers at the Environmental Agency to examine the levels of heavy metals in the meat and organochlorines in the blubber (for further details, see under Whales and the marine environment).