There has been an unexplained increase in beached whales in Iceland, especially in the east, where three whales have beached themselves in just the past week alone. There is a possibility that NATO submarine exercises around Iceland have been attracting the animals to shore.
East Iceland news service Austurfrétt reports that two of these whales are Cuvier’s beaked whales, a species that is very uncommon to see anywhere near Iceland. The third was a bottlenose whale, another genus of beaked whale.
Further, west Iceland news service Skessuhorn reports that another whale was found beached just north of Snæfellsnes, although in a considerable state of decay. It is unknown what species of whale it is.
That being said, it is possible it may have been a pilot whale, given recent events. Just last week, a group of pilot whales became trapped in Kolgrafafjörður, which is in the same region. Even after rescue workers ushered them out, they soon returned to the same area later on.
What is attracting these whales to Icelandic beaches in increasing numbers is still a mystery, although Fréttablaðið reports that NATO submarine exercises around Iceland may be a possible cause.
Whales beached in Iceland is not an uncommon sight. In fact, the Icelandic word for a beached whale, hvalreki, is used in common parlance the same way the English use “windfall”. This becomes more evident in the various ways beached whales have been used in the recent past in Iceland.
For example, in 2014, the Penis Museum put in a request for the penis of a beached sperm whale which has washed up in the Westfjords.
In 2013, a group of pilot whales beached themselves in Snæfellsnes, prompting many locals to descend upon them and butcher them for their meat. The act was not only dangerous, on account of the high levels of mercury in pilot whale meat, but it was suspected that some of the whales might have even been butchered alive.
In 2012, the jawbone of a beached sperm whale was poached for its ivory, which can fetch a hefty price on the black market. The perpetrators were never apprehended.