Research and Citizen Science at Whales of Iceland

When Whales of Iceland was founded, our spectacular life-sized models were the main focus of the exhibition: a chance for visitors to experience the true size of these gigantic marine animals, and to learn a little about each of the 23 species that have been sighted in the waters around Iceland throughout history. However, this focus is now evolving, and we have introduced new exhibits and aspects to the museum since its opening. In 2019 we opened our Fin Whale Theatre, a space for documentary screenings and our conservation exhibit, where visitors can learn about many of the threats whales cetaceans face in our modern world.

Iceland is a hotspot for cetaceans – and so, also for cetacean researchers! Some remarkable discoveries have been made here in the last decade, from the first recordings of humpback whales singing in their feeding grounds over winter, to the unusual antagonistic interactions between killer whales and long-finned pilot whales. We want to highlight this at Whales of Iceland so that our museum is not just a place to learn about cetaceans themselves, but also how scientists study these fascinating and complex animals, what this research has uncovered, and all the things that we still do not know!

Once, not so long ago, this corner of our museum was home to our Blainville's beaked whale model and not much else

So, on February 2nd, coinciding with the citywide Museum Night, we unveiled our newest exhibit focusing on whale research. Here, our visitors can read about some of the most common techniques used in marine mammal science, as well as the history of whale research in Iceland, and the main organisations conducting research in Iceland today. In our Big Little Whale Library, we have a wide selection of books as well as some comfy seats – the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee and read up on oceanography, ecology, statistics, or anything else that takes your fancy!

Now, the space is home to our brand new research exhibit

We also provide visitors with the opportunity to take part in some real scientific projects. So, thanks to Zooniverse, our newest exhibit includes the Citizen Science Station where anyone can have a shot at being a scientist! We feature a rotating variety of Zooniverse projects for visitors to choose from, giving them opportunities to help study different marine mammal species and other aspects of the marine environment.

Our Citizen Science Station and the Big Little Whale Library

Our continuous aim is to make Whales of Iceland a more interactive and thought-provoking experience. We hope that our museum will continue to offer visitors the chance to marvel at the size and beauty of these wonderful creatures, but also to engage with the natural world in ways they may not have before, and to feel that they have not just learned, but discovered.

Museums provide a perfect platform for citizen science; we are a small museum relatively speaking, but our footfall in peak season can be more than 400 people in a day. That’s a lot of potential citizen scientists! In ecology, we would call this a mutualistic symbiosis – or, in other words, everyone wins! Our museum guests can provide valuable contributions to scientific projects all over the world, while at the same time gaining first-hand insight into the life of a whale researcher.