Last year, the Marine Research Institute initiated a wide ranging program for minke whale research in Icelandic waters. One of the sub-projects of the program involved tracking of the movements of minke whales by satellite telemetry. This part of the programme is conducted in cooperation between the Marine Research Institute and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. The minke whale is a migratory species spending the summer at productive feeding areas at high latitues, where they are believed to fulfill upto 80% of their annual food requirements during 4-6 months. According to the most recent sightings survey, around 44.000 minke whales inhabit the Icelandic continental shelf area during summer. Most of these animals leave Icelandic waters during autumn, but the whereabouts of the species during the winter breeding season is virtually unknown. It is generally assumed that minke whales and other species of the family Balaenopteridae migrate to warmer waters in lower latitudes for breeding.
During the period 27 August-23 September 2004 seven minke whales were instrumented with satellite transmitters in Faxaflói Bay, SW Iceland. Upto 8th October useful data were received from three of these animals and scientists were able to follow the movements of one animal out of Icelandic waters, SW along the Reykjanes Ridge down to 50°N.
On 17 November signals were received from a minke whale that had been tagged in Faxaflói Bay 27 August, the first data received from this animal. The position of the animal was then over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, 500 nautical miles west of North Spain. The transmitter is active only every 6th day, to prolong the battery life, so the next transmission was on 23 November. Then, the minke whale had travelled some 700km to the south, into the Azores area. No useable transmissions were received on the 30th November, but on 5 December the animal had moved further to the south, along the Canary Current and was 1000km northwest of the Cape Verde Islands. This area is 3700km from Faxaflói Bay where the tag was put on more then three months previously.
These positions are considerably more southerly than the previous tagging attempts of minke whales in the North Atlantic hva shown. However, it must be borne in mind, that this is the first time we have succeded in tracking minke whales this late into the winter, and there were no signs of a halt in the southerly movements of the other two minke whales when they stopped transmitting (8 November 2002 and 8 October 2004). The migration route of the minke whale to the Azores area is unclear, but it cannot be precluded that it took similar route as the other two animals, i.e. SW along the Reykjanes Ridge and then turning eastward along the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Even though this research project has already provided important new knowledge on the migration of minke whales in the North Atlantic, and may still provide som additional information, more research is needed to cast further light on the migratory behaviour of the species, and it's residence during winter.