In 2009 my wife and I were traveling through Scandinavia with our VW campervan for three months. We were both just graduated, my wife as an animation artist, and me as a music teacher. One of the highlights of our roadtrip was a whale watching tour from the fishing village of Stø, Northern Norway. Never in my life had I been so seasick. As I was lying on the deck, waiting for the world to end, my wife was the first to spot the whales, a group of minke whales. As it turned out, it was a unique event, in all my years as a guide and a researcher I have never seen it again. After observing the whales for 20 minutes or so my wife asked me "how is your seasickness?". I realised that I had been so fascinated by the whales that I forgotten all about it. This event triggered me to leave music behind to see if I could one day become a whale biologist. I studied marine biology in Wageningen (Netherlands), but I kept going back to northern Norway during the summer months to work as a whale watching guide, or as a volunteer if I couldn't find paid work. My wife and I recently moved to northern Norway, since I have found a job as a PhD scholar of the Norwegian Acadamy of Science and Letters (DNVA) in Oslo, Norway. My actual work place is in Tromsø, at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), where my daily work is focussed on studying the movement of killer whales and humpback whales.
While I was studying biology in the Neterhlands, I spent my summer holidays in Norway, working for whale watching companies, either as a guide and as a voluntary researcher. The research at whale watching companies is often limited to photo identification, where I tried to identify whether individual animals where more often observed in a fjord area or offshore. In addition I worked on the development and maintenance of a sperm whale identification catalogue.
In 2016 a large group of sperm whales stranded on beaches near the North Sea. During that time I was working as a freelancer at a Dutch marine research institute (see the next paragraph), and I initiated a crowd funding campaign to study the stranded sperm whales. My goal with this project was to try to identify stranded animals, based on sperm whale catalogues around Europe. Despite the fact that it was a large group of animals, I did not find any matches. This website is the direct result of that crowdfunding project, and it is an easy, fast and open method to compare pictures of stranded sperm whales with a north-eastern Atlantic sperm whale catalogue. Any matches that can be found provide some much needed insight in the routes sperm whales can take while traveling along the European coastline. It can also provide background information on the whereabouts of the stranded individual prior to their unfortunate death. In order to be as effective as possible I would like to invite anyone who has pictures of sperm whale flukes to contact me in order to see if your animals can be added to the catalogue. The catalogue as displayed on this website is not the full catalogue. Unfortunately some of the images can’t be displayed publically due to copyright and ownership issues. However, uploaded pictures from stranded animals can be compared to all pictures in the catalogue, not only the images displayed on this website. I am also in contact with curators of other whale catalogues, both for sperm whales and other species, therefore there is a network that can be used to try to identify stranded whales.
My work with other marine mammals
My daily work is not focussed on sperm whales, but on humpback whales and killer whales. In my PhD I study the movement of these two species along the Norwegian coast, and how their movement patterns are overlapping with human activities (in particular shipping and fishing). I mainly use telemetry data, which is data that was obtained by satellite tags that are attached to the animals. These satellite tags transmit geographic locations, for the course of several months. That way we can follow the animals and determine which areas are important for them (for example for feeding) and which areas they only use to pass through. In addition to my regular work, and to my passion for sperm whales, I am also very interested in the smallest of all whales, the harbour porpoise. This small cetacean looks a bit like a dolphin, and is quite common throughout northern Europe. I am involved in a few different projects to study the way these animals use their environment, both with visual observations and by acoustic detections.
Before I moved to Norway, I worked as a freelance researcher for a Dutch marine research institute (IMARES, now called Wageningen Marine Research). I worked mostly with seals and with porpoises, and the projects where mostly near the island of Texel, although at the time I had one project in northern Norway, studying porpoises.
In contrast to my work with sperm whales, most of the other projects I described here are paid work.