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Our research focuses on the social and foraging behaviour of orcas while monitoring which individuals can be regularly seen in Iceland to gain a better understanding of the population size and status.

To achieve this we use a variety of techniques and we work during times of the year when the whales can be reliably seen near the coast. In the summer we work in the archipelago of Vestmannaeyjar, in Southwest Iceland, while in the winters of 2013-2015 we have worked in Grundarfjörður, in the Snæfellsnes peninsula. In this section you can find out more about our project and the research techniques we use.

The Icelandic orcas


Studies of orcas in Iceland began in the 1980’s, when the Marine Research Institute (Reykjavík) started documenting the individuals observed in the herring overwintering grounds of East Iceland. However, there hasn’t been dedicated long-term monitoring, as done in other populations, such as the better known North Pacific residents or transients. For this reason, we still know little about this population. For example, we don’t know whether all whales are fish-eaters or whether they organize into stable family groups. Nevertheless, research so far seems to indicate that in some aspects this is a unique population. In this section you can find out what has been discovered about Icelandic orcas.


Below you can find a list of scientific publications that have been published to date including data collected within this project. Get in touch with us if you would like more information about these publications.

Samarra FIP, Tavares SB, Miller PJO and Víkingsson GA (2017). Killer whales of Iceland 2006-2015. Report of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute HV2017-005. Available here


Richard G, Filatova OA, Samarra FIP, Fedutin ID, Lammers M and Miller PJO (2017). Icelandic herring-eating killer whales feed at night. Marine Biology, 164: 32. Available here


Samarra FIP, Vighi M, Aguilar A and Víkingsson GA (2017). Intra-population variation in isotopic niche in herring-eating killer whales. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 564: 199-210. Available here


Tavares S, Samarra FIP and Miller PJO (2017). A multilevel society of herring-eating killer whales indicates adaptation to prey characteristics. Behavioral Ecology, 28: 500-514. Available here


Filatova O, Miller P, Yurk H, Samarra F, Hoyt E, Ford J, Matkin C and Barrett-Lennard L (2016). Physical constraints of dialect evolution in killer whales. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 140(5): 3755-3764. Available here


Samarra FIP, Deecke, VB, Miller, PJO (2016) Low-frequency signals produced by Northeast Atlantic killer whales (Orcinus orca). The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 139(3): 1149-1157. Available here


Samarra FIP and Foote AD (2015) Seasonal movements of killer whales between Iceland and Shetland. Aquatic Biology, 24(1): 75-79. Available here


Filatova OF, Samarra FIP, Deecke VB, Ford JKB, Miller PJO and Yurk H (2015) Cultural evolution of killer whale vocalizations: background, mechanisms and consequences. Behaviour, 152(15): 2001-2038. Available here


Filatova, OF, Miller PJO, Yurk, H, Samarra, FIP, Hoyt, E, Ford, JKB, Matkin, CO, Barrett-Lennard, LG (2015). Killer whale call frequency is similar across the oceans, but varies across sympatric ecotypes. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 138(1): 251-257. Available here


Samarra FIP (2015). Variations in killer whale (Orcinus orca) food-associated calls produced during different prey behavioural contexts. Behavioural Processes 116: 33-42. Available here


Samarra FIP and Miller PJO (2015). Prey-induced behavioural plasticity of herring-eating killer whales. Marine Biology, 162(4): 809-821. Available here


Samarra FIP, Deecke VB, Simonis AE and Miller PJO (2015). Geographic variation in the time-frequency characteristics of high-frequency whistles produced by killer whales (Orcinus orca). Marine Mammal Science, 31(2): 688-706. Available here


Foote AD, Kuningas S, and Samarra FIP (2014). North Atlantic killer whale research; past, present and future. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 94(6): 1245-1252. Available here


Mäkeläinen P, Esteban R, Foote AD, Kuningas S, Nielsen J, Samarra FIP, Similä T, Van Geel NCF and Vikingsson GA (2014). A comparison of pigmentation features among North Atlantic killer whale (Orcinus orca) populations. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 94(6): 1335-1341. Available here


Shamir L, Yerbi C, Simpson R, von Benda-Beckmann AM, Tyack P, Samarra F, Miller PJO and Wallin J (2014). Classification of large acoustic datasets using machine learning and crowdsourcing:  Application to whale calls. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 135(2): 953-962. Available here


Samarra FIP, Fennell A, Aoki K, Deecke VB and Miller PJO (2012). Persistence of skin marks on killer whales (Orcinus orca) caused by the parasitic sea  lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) in Iceland. Marine Mammal Science, 28(2): 395-401. Available here


Samarra, FIP, Deecke, VB, Vinding, K, Rasmussen, MH, Swift, R and Miller, PJO (2010). Killer whales (Orcinus orca) produce ultrasonic whistles. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 128(5): EL205-EL210. Available here


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