From Iceland — Sperm Whale Carcass Washes Up On East Iceland Beach

Sperm Whale Carcass Washes Up On East Iceland Beach

Published April 27, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
East Iceland Nature Agency

The carcass of a large sperm whale washed up on Héraðssandur beach in East Iceland last week. The East Iceland Nature Agency suggests that the whale may have died as a result of a collision with a ship.

The 15-metre long sperm whale carcass was inspected by the East Iceland Nature Agency last week and samples, including a tooth, were collected for analysis by experts at the Icelandic Marine Research Institute. Skarphéðinn G. Þórisson, a biologist at the agency, stated that the carcass appeared to be in a relatively normal condition and that no unusual injuries had been recorded.

The exact cause of the sperm whale’s death is not yet known, but its front teeth were broken, which Skarphéðinn believes is an indicator of a serious collision, Austurfrétt reports. “Sperm whales can submerge up to 2,000 metres”, Skarphéðinn explains. After a deep dive which may last up to an hour, sperm whales return to the surface to get oxygen for around eight minutes. It is at this point that they are at risk of collision with a ship.

Sperm whales’ teeth are a highly sought after commodity, often fetching thousands of dollars, but export without a permit is illegal in Iceland. here is relatively strict legislation around the treatment of carcasses that wash up on Icelandic shores, but in recent years, poachers in search of ivory have targeted whale carcasses. In 2015 the lower jaw of sperm whale carcass near Skógar was removed with a chainsaw.

It is not yet clear what will happen to this whale carcass, Skarphéðinn suggests that if left on the beach it will become buried in sand over time and decompose naturally.

Icelanders who find beached whales or whale carcasses are urged to contact the Icelandic Marine Research Institute or the local nature agency.

In related news, whale hunting has been cancelled in Iceland for the second year running – whales everywhere are rejoicing! Read more about it here.

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