Humpbacks Sing for Mates in North Iceland Bay Skip to content

Humpbacks Sing for Mates in North Iceland Bay

Recordings of the sound made by humpback whales during mid-winter in the bay Skjálfand off Húsavík in northeast Iceland indicate that the whales are searching for mates and may even have mated in the bay.


Archive photo: Páll Stefánsson.

“I was surprised when I heard humpbacks sing in Skjálfandi,” doctoral student Edda Elísabet Magnúsdóttir, who recorded the song, told Morgunbladid.

The recordings might indicate that part of the whale stock mates in northern territories; until now the mating of this species is not believed to be practiced in the region.

“From December and at least throughout February the humpbacks in Skjálfandi sing and the song’s diversity increases towards the end of the period which is when the hormonal levels peak and the search for mates reaches its highest point,” Magnúsdóttir describes.

The males sing when they’re looking for females to mate with. Their song is the most powerful in the dark; it is for example stronger under a new moon than a full moon.

Magnúsdóttir adds that it is important to take samples to confirm whether mating has in fact taken place in the bay.

A GPS monitor was placed on a humpback in Eyjafjördur near Skjálfandi one week ago to follow its travels. On Friday, it transmitted signals off Keflavík harbor in the southwest.

The longest distance the whale swam in one day was 130 kilometers to the northwest. So far its movements coincide with those of humpbacks marked in 2008 and 2009.

The Icelandic Marine Research Institute is studying the seasonal distributing and behavior of baleen whales off Iceland.

Older theories assumed that they all left Icelandic waters in the winter but recent research indicates that part of the humpback stock remains off Iceland throughout the winter while others swim to more southerly locations, such as the Azores.

Gísli Víkingsson, whale specialist at the Icelandic Marine Research Institute, said it would be interesting to follow the whales for an entire year, but it has proven difficult to have the tags stay in place for such a long time.


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