A group of more than 200 pilot whales ran into difficulties by Innri-Njarðvík in Southwest Iceland on Saturday. Many of the whales would have beached had it not been for divers and other volunteers who steered them towards the open sea.
A YouTube video from the event, posted by nesmyndir.
“It is naturally a species which is common in Icelandic waters at this time of year but it usually stays at greater depths. It is a deep-sea whale and belongs out in the ocean,” biologist and whale specialist Gísli Víkingsson of the Icelandic Marine Research Institute told Morgunblaðið.
“It happens regularly that they run into such difficulties, although it isn’t common. Years or decades may pass between such incidents,” Gísli added.
According to visir.is, scientists disagree as to why whales swim so close to the shore. Some argue that they are chasing food, such as mackerel, others believe disturbances in the earth’s magnetic field leads them off track, or that a parasite infection in their inner ears disturbs their sense of direction.
Gísli does not find it likely that the whales were ill. He is also not certain that they were chasing food.
“It was a large group of whales of all sizes and ages: calves, mothers and fully-grown bulls. It is a very social species that stays in large herds,” Gísli told Morgunblaðið.
In the Faroe Islands pilot whales are killed for consumption but in Iceland hunting the species is illegal.
A similar incident occurred in Njarðvík in 1957 when a group of pilot whales swam close to the shore. At that time, locals drove them to the beach and slaughtered the whales for consumption. This was also the case in Rif, West Iceland, in 1982.
The last time a group of pilot whales swam close to the shore in Iceland was in Þorlákshöfn, South Iceland, in 1986.
“It happened during the night and the whales had beached by Þorlákshöfn when they were discovered. Some of them were still alive but most had died,” Gísli recalled.
“The school was partially taken advantage of: the Faroese came to get hold of some meat, some of it was used as food for foxes and some Icelanders tasted the meat too,” Gísli concluded.
This morning a large school of pilot whales was spotted off Akranes in West Iceland.
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