Christiansen, Fredrik Oscar f.christiansen at abdn.ac.uk
Tue Jan 18 04:56:16 PST 2011


I am looking for four volunteers to assist me between the beginning of June (10th) and the end of August (31st) with land based tracking of Minke whale movement and diving behaviour in Iceland. The project is part of a larger study looking at the effects of whalewatching on Minke whales in Iceland and the land based data constitutes the control (or natural) behaviour data of this project. A land based station, a 27m high lighthouse, will be used as a platform from which Minke whale movement (lag. and long. position of every surfacing) and diving behaviour (dive interval) will be collected in the absence of tourist boats, by using a theodolite and computer. Continuous focal follows of individual Minke whales will be conducted. One person will use a theodolite to measure the position of the Minke whale every time it surfaces, as well as the orientation of the animal and any conspicuous surface behaviours (e.g. feeding). A second person with binoculars will assist the theodolite tracker and make sure that no surfacing is missed or that no other Minke whales enter the study area which might confuse the theodolite tracker. A third person will enter all the data into a computer in real time, together with environmental data etc. Volunteers will rotate between these positions, but if a person is really skilled with theodolite tracking they might be given priority for tracking when weather conditions are particularly favourable.

The lighthouse is located in Gardur, about 30km west of Reykjavik, north of Keflavik, and overlooks the southern part of Faxaflói Bay. It's a small town consisting of about 1400 people and facilities are limited. There is a supermarket, swimming hall and some cafes. A few times per day there is a free shuttle bus between Gardur and Keflavik, which is a slightly bigger city (8000 people).

Regarding costs, unfortunately this is an unpaid volunteer position and you would have to cover your own travel expenses to and from Iceland, your travel insurance (required!), as well as your food expenses during the project. Accommodation will be provided for free by the project. Accommodation will consist of a shared house in Gardur with bathroom and kitchen, provided by the municipality of Gardur. Volunteers need to live and cook together. The house will have internet connection. The successful applicant will need to both work and live together with people from different countries and backgrounds and therefore needs to be a very tolerant and flexible person. During time periods of bad weather, or periods when whales are not seen for a long time, you might become very frustrated, but it's important to remain polite and respectful in all situations.

As theodolite tracking of Minke whales is difficult and takes a long time to learn, priority will be given to people with previous experience in theodolite tracking. If you have this sort of experience, please specify in your application when and where you worked with this, what species you were studying and what sort of data you collected (did you collect positional data for every surfacing or just one fix per surfacing bout?). How many hours of theodolite tracking (actively working with the theodolite) do you have roughly? As the feasibility of this project is relying strongly on assistants, the successful candidate will need to be able to stay for the entire duration of the project. A departure in the middle of the project would be very difficult to accommodate for, and therefore I wish you to really consider your availability for this summer before you decide to apply for this position.

Apart from setting up the project, I will personally not be stationed in Gardur, but work from Reykjavik collecting the impact data from whalewatching boats, which constitutes the other part of this project. The land based research will instead be lead by a research student from Aberdeen University, who will be in charge of all the work.

The work schedule for the lighthouse will be between 06:00 and 18:00 (depending on the weather) and volunteers will rotate on a two hours basis, rotating between theodolite tracking, binocular tracking, computer entry and being off duty. As in any cetacean work, there will be days when work will be very intense due to favourable weather conditions, when you will be expected to work up to 10h in the field. Other days will have bad weather and no work, or half a day's work or less, so we have to be flexible and work according to the weather. When we are not working in the field there will be data entry work to do, as well as everyday equipment cleaning work etc. I also expect everyone to help out together with the everyday tasks of cooking, cleaning etc. As I mentioned, when the weather is bad there wont be any field work, so those days can also be used to relax. As the field season is relatively short (3 months) and bad weather will prevent work for roughly half of these days, days off will not be scheduled, but rather taken opportunistically during days when the weather is bad. Therefore you will need to be stationed in Gardur throughout these three months, so any plans to travel around Iceland should be done prior to or after this project.

Tourist will regularly come up to the lighthouse and ask what we are working with, during which time you have to be polite and informative. The major of Gardur is keen on advertising our work to locals and tourists, and we should assist him with this task as much as we can.

As Gardur is small and geographically isolated, there isn't much to do when you are not working, so if you are a person that needs a lot of stimulation then this project isn't for you. There is a lot of beautiful nature around Gardur to where you can walk, and many species of birds for bird lovers or photographers. Apart from Minke whales you can also sometimes see white beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises, basking sharks and seals from the coast. But for time periods when the weather is bad (sometimes for weeks) and there is no data processing to be done, I recommend that you bring along books, movies etc or whatever you like doing at your spare time basically. You should expect that the weather will be bad roughly half of the time you are in Iceland and prevent you from working. There will also be periods (sometimes weeks) when few or no Minke whales are sighted. For those periods it is important not to give up, and to keep working from the lighthouse, as the animals can return at any time. This is a rather difficult project, but to observing this species without disturbing it, and to see its natural behaviours is very rewarding. And even though being difficult, we managed to get a lot of data from last season, showing that this project is not only possible, but also has great potential to be even better for 2011.

I hope this project description hasn't scared you off already, but I wanted to emphasize what the difficulties with this project are and that I am looking for people that can handle this sort of work and living conditions. This project will give you a great chance to work with an amazing species in an amazing place, and you will be able to learn some skills that are frequently practised in cetacean research and therefore really useful to know for anyone that wants to pursue a career in this field. Also you will have the opportunity to work with other like minded people from different countries and local Icelanders.

The land based field site and accommodation is located in Gardur, Iceland.

The tracking project is planned between the 10th of June and the 31st of August 2011.

-      collect Minke whale track data from land with theodolite
-      enter track data into computer in real time
-      data entry and processing
-      equipment cleaning and maintenance
-      talk and inform tourists and locals about the Minke whales and our work

-      have a strong background in Marine biology/Oceanography, with knowledge and experience of marine mammal behaviour and/or sea birds
-      have previous wildlife field experience and ability to stand long working days
-      have previous theodolite tracking skills
-      be computer literate with a working knowledge PC operating system and proficiency with MS Word and MS Excel. Possibility to bring your own Laptop is much preferred
-      be enthusiastic, hard-working, team oriented, able to share small living space
-      be adaptable, flexible and patient as fieldwork is highly weather dependent
-      have good English language skills

Send CV and resume. The resume should include the following:
-      details of your availability
-      contact details of two referees
-      a brief description of yourself including your interest in biology and what you hope to gain from this experience
-      any previous experience in theodolite tracking
-      any dietary requirements (i.e. vegetarian, vegan, etc.)

Send applications to:

Fredrik Christiansen (PhD Student)
University of Aberdeen
Institute of Biological Sciences
Tillydrone Ave
Aberdeen AB24 2TZ
United Kingdom
E-mail: f.christiansen at abdn.ac.uk<mailto:f.christiansen at abdn.ac.uk>
Mobile: +44 78 18725081

The University of Aberdeen is a charity registered in Scotland, No SC013683.
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