A species of whale that is very uncommon to Icelandic waters beached itself on the Westman Islands last Sunday, Fréttablaðið reports. While unusual, there was a significant uptick in whale beachings all around Iceland late in the summer.
Gísli Á. Víkingsson, an expert at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, told reporters that this was the first beaching of this species, the Sowerby’s beaked whale, since 1992. Part of the reason is because normally, Sowerby’s tend to swim in deep sea waters significantly south of Iceland, and very rarely come this close to shore.
Not much is known about the species from a scientific point of view, and so samples were taken from the whale’s stomach, blubber, and from its reproductive organs. A taxidermist, having received permission from the Institute, sawed off the head of the whale for making a skull from it.
The story is reminiscent of reporting from last August, when a series of mysterious whale beachings left experts scratching their heads. Fréttablaðið reported at the time that NATO submarine exercises around Iceland may have been a possible cause for the beachings.
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.