Scars from Above

by Whale Wise in Iceland


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+ est. £181.25
£70,000 target 5 days left
1% 35 supporters
Keep what you raise – this project will receive all pledges made by 5th July 2022 at 10:06pm

We aim to use drones to assess humpback whale entanglement in Iceland and its consequences for the population to inform future conservation.

by Whale Wise in Iceland

We aim to determine the prevalence of entanglement and its consequences for humpback whale populations using drones. In this way, we can inform future conservation efforts. We hope to raise £70,000 to run the project for two years, including field season costs and fair living wages for our team which currently consists entirely of volunteers.

Huge thank you to Chris Packham who has helped to promote and share this project. We met Chris while filming the BBC series Our Changing Planet and have been in awe of his kindness ever since. Watch the episode here.

Here is how your donation can contribute to different costs:

£10: Electrical tape

£25: Dual Lock Velcro

£40: Reusable zip-ties

£50: Internet for one month in the field

£69: Drone battery charger

£100: Food for two researchers for one week

£179: Drone battery

£400: International flights and baggage for one researcher

£800: One month's accommodation for the team in the field

£1500: One month's fair and living wage to complete data collection and analysis  for one researcher 

£2549: Mavic 3 DJI drone + accessories (3 batteries, propellers, charging hub, case, UV filters). If you fully fund the drone, you can name it!

£5000: Car rental for six months of field work

About us

Whale Wise is a UK charity focused on marine mammal conservation. We study the interactions, both positive and negative, between whales and human activity. By engaging the public with this research, we strive to inform, promote and inspire marine conservation. Our ultimate goal is the sustainable, respectful use of our ocean.



In recent years our focus has been studying the response of humpback whales to whale-watching vessels in Iceland, working towards a sustainable and more beneficial industry. We use a variety of methods, including blow sampling and behavioural observation. Find out more about this and other projects on our website.


For the upcoming few years we are focussing on a new project:

Scars from Above

In this project, we will explore the use of aerial imagery (photogrammetry) to assess large whale entanglement - particularly humpback whales - and its energetic consequences.

Entanglement in fishing gear is a major threat to large cetaceans such as humpback whales. In the North Atlantic, entanglement is a leading cause of anthropogenic (human caused) mortality in humpbacks, and up to half bear resulting scars.


However, knowledge gaps still remain in the field. Entanglement rates are typically calculated by assessing scars from photos taken from boats, in which only a small proportion of the whale’s body is visible. Furthermore, the true cost of entanglement is almost certainly greater than direct mortality. Fishing gear restricts movement, which may hinder swimming or feeding. Therefore, entanglement likely has energetic consequences.

We will investigate the use of aerial images taken by drones (aka unoccupied aerial vehicles, or UAVs) to address these knowledge gaps for humpback whales. We will focus on Steingrímsfjörður, a remote fjord in the Icelandic Westfjords. This area is a coastal humpback feeding ground in summer and autumn, allowing us conduct all of our fieldwork from land.


Leading on from recent work by other research groups, we have three specific questions:

  • Can we use drones to assess entanglement scars on Icelandic humpback whales?
  • How do entanglement rates vary between whales of different ages and sizes?
  • Does entanglement impact individual body condition? We measure body condition as the amount of blubber (fat or energy stores) on a whale, indicated by its girth.


Achieving this will require a huge collaborative effort. In Steingrímsfjörður, we will work with Judith Scott, a whale-watching guide for Láki Tours, who has accumulated a huge photo-identification catalogue in recent years. We’ll also continue to work with the University of Iceland. Dr Charla Basran, postdoctoral researcher at the university’s Research Centre in Húsavík, will supervise this project. Meanwhile, we also plan to use drone images collected in Skjálfandi Bay by Maria Glarou, a PhD student, and Prof. Marianne Rasmussen, co-director of the research centre. 

Why we need your help

Whale Wise is a charity with a team consisting entirely of volunteers. The team is currently unpaid and runs the charity purely on grants, donations and earnings from other part-time jobs. With your donation, you will support Whale Wise’s research and engagement projects and our general running. As part of this, you will help to create an equitable work place where the team can earn a fair living wage.


For the Scars from Above project we are hoping to raise £70,000. This budget includes fair living wages for the researchers collecting and analysing data (60% of budget) as we support equity in science. These funds will also cover the costs of collecting the data in the field for six months over two years (equipment, travel, etc.).


 Thank you for your time and donation.

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