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Three humpback whales feeding at the surface on capelin.
Photo: Yasmin Hunt
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“Johan Hjort ” on whale safari

Cruise diary: On board ”Johan Hjort” there are two whale observers that register whales along the cruise tracks, as long as the weather permits. When it is rough seas or fog, then the registering stops.
On the 28th August we came to an area a little south from Hopen island with a large concentration of humpback whales.

There were approximately 150 animals that were feeding on tight capelin schools, which extended from the bottom all the way to the surface. As we drove in and out of the area, on the echo sounder the capelin schools were more spread. It appeared the humpbacks had managed to concentrate the capelin in tighter schools.



On ”Johan Hjort” the staff taking photographs of the humpback feeding.

Photo: Yasmin Hunt


We have taken some good ID-photos of the flukes of some of the humpbacks. The undersides of their tails have individual markings for identification which is used for population and distribution studies. This will be added to an increasing catalogue of flukes to find out where and when individuals are been observed. In earlier fluke ID opportunities, we have had an individual observed in the Barents Sea and in the Caribbean, which confirms the Barents Sea population of humpbacks use the Caribbean as their winter area.



Samples of 2–3 years old capelin from trawling in the whale area.

Photo: Yasmin Hunt


In the autumn the humpback whales migrate to their winter area. The usually don’t feed on their migrations, so krill, capelin and herring in the Barents Sea are very important to build up the energy levels for the winter in the south. Humpbacks are a baleen whale, which means they don’t have teeth, and they filter their food. As they gulp their food, the baleen plates filter the food from the sea water. This is what we had observed on our whale safari.



Echo registrations of capelin schools from the surface down to 80 meters depth in the whale area.

Copyright Havforskningsinstituttet


The humpbacks mate in the winter area when the mature males attract the females with a song, These songs have only been recorded from the males. These songs are a way to communicate. The calf is born in the winter area and together with the mother a minimum of one year. The gestation period is 11.5 months and the calf is 4–4.5 meters long at birth.


Barents Sea Facts

Russian name: Barentsevo More
Size: 1.4 million km2 in surface area (approximately four times as large as Norway).
Depth: Average depth = 230 m, Maximum depth = 500 m
Fisheries: Bottom fish such as cod, haddock, Greenland halibut, long rough dab, and redfish. Other commercially important species include: capelin; northern shrimp; minke whales, and harp seals
Special features:

  • Large annual variations in temperature relative to ice coverage
  • A shallow sea which makes up a portion of the continental shelf around the Arctic Ocean
  • Has one of the largest concentrations of sea birds in the world: approximately 20 million individuals distributed across 40 different species
  • Management of living marine resources in the Barents Sea is carried out through collaboration between Norway and Russia.
The Barent Sea Ecosystem