From Iceland — Beached Pilot Whales In Álftafjörður

Beached Pilot Whales In Álftafjörður

Published September 15, 2020

Catherine Magnúsdóttir
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Náttúrustofa Vesturlands, the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, recieved a call from the police yesterday about a group of pilot whales that were found beached in Álftafjörður in Snæfellsnes.

According to a report by RÚV, a group of biologists, two from Náttúrustofa, one from the University of Iceland, and a veterinarian traveled to the scene and found ten pilot whales ashore.

Eight of them had already been dead, one, still alive, whale was swimming freely just a short distance from its group. Another one had been stuck ashore, laying on its side, but the team managed to turn the whale back over on its belly, so it could breathe properly, and then manged to free it.

Both whales remained in the area however, calling out for the other whales, and were discovered to have died later.

Róbert Arnar Stefánsson, biologist and director of Náttúrustofa Vesturlands, told Fréttablaðið that it’s very unusual for whales to swim ashore in Álftafjörður. He theorises that, “most of the time the group follows the one whale who decides where to go. The leader may have gotten confused about something and swam ashore and the others followed.”

It is also very unusual for them to have gone so far to the shore. Jón Einar Jónsson, the director of the Research Center of the University of Iceland in Snæfellsnes, tells RÚV that, “It’s too shallow here for them to be chasing squid, for example, which is their main food source, and we see no signs of fish either but they got trapped here. This is a bit of a weird case. It is shallow and has a sloping bottom and difficult tides, so this is one of the worst places imaginable for this species.”

According to Jón, humpback whales have come ashore quite often in recent years, both in Snæfellsnes and elsewhere.

“Whether this is some kind of upswing or something like that we don’t know, whether the animals are taking more risks in their food supply or something. Maybe due to changed eating conditions in the sea, there is an increased risk of accidents under such circumstances,” he says.

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