Over the weekend, nearly 100 pilot whales were spotted off the northwest coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula, close to Ólafsvík and Rif. Locals on jet-skis herded the whales away from the shore and into deeper waters. Rescue agencies were not alerted to the operation, as it was handled successfully by the locals.
The abundance of pilot whales in Icelandic waters has increased over recent years, with whale rescue and recovery becoming an annual occurrence over the past three years. Last week, a herd of 53 pilot whales stranded and died on a remote island of southeast Snæfellsnes.
The last successful rescue operation involving rescue agencies occurred in August 2018, when 50-70 pilot whales swam into Kólgrafafjörður on Snæfellsnes peninsula’s north coast. Guðbrandur Örn Arnarson, the project manager of search and rescue at ICE-SAR, was involved in the rescue, which he said took a couple of days.
Whale task force
As of last winter, several agencies involved in whale rescue and recovery began streamlining their collective protocols. The agencies involved are far-ranging and include ICE-SAR, the Icelandic Coast Guard, the Public Safety Department of the National Police, the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, and R&D scientists.
This forum for first responders and municipal governments is not yet formalised, but is currently referred to as the Whale Task Force. As Guðbrandur Örn at ICE-SAR further explained “The idea is to define and simplify what to do in whale rescue and stranding situations.”
Pilot whale mass-stranding incidents are unusual, but not rare, in Iceland. They often occur when the herd’s leader takes the group into shallow water, with several manmade and natural factors cited as hypotheses. The intention of whale rescue is to preempt stranding incidents by driving whales away from treacherous shorelines, or refloating beached whales when they do strand.
Read more about whales here.
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