A Celebration of Whales Skip to content

A Celebration of Whales

Whales are a sensitive issue in Iceland.

On the one hand, Icelanders are infamous whale hunters who resumed commercial whaling in 2006 after a break since 1989. Minke whale hunting for the domestic market is frowned upon but didn’t create nearly as much fuss as the hunting of fin whales, a species listed as endangered, whose meat is intended for export.

On the other hand, whale watching is becoming increasingly popular in Iceland and an increasingly important part of the tourism sector.

Most likely with that in mind, JPG Publishing released the book Whales by Jón Baldur Hlídberg and Sigurdur Aegisson in Icelandic and English in 2010.

Beautifully designed and illustrated, this handy book contains a wealth of information about all the whales that can be found in the North Atlantic, and that’s a lot of species.

Categorized into ‘Toothed Whales’ and ‘Baleen Whales’, the book starts with the tiny (in whale terms) harbour porpoise and ends with the huge humpback which, despite its weight of up to 40 tons, can jump high into the air to the delight of whale watchers.

I’m familiar with most of the baleen whales but I had no idea there were so many different toothed whales in the waters around Iceland, let alone so many colorful ones.

There are so many different dolphin species, like the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the white-beaked dolphin and the striped dolphin, and further to the north and south there are fascinatingly strange creatures like the narwhal with its horn, the white beluga whale and the red Cuvier’s beaked whale.

Whales are amazing creatures. The sperm whale, for example, can dive down to a depth of 1.5 kilometers and the blue whale, the largest animal on this earth, past and present, weighs up to 200 tons. Its tongue alone weighs as much as an elephant.

Some of these species are very rare, such as the North Atlantic right whale, of which there are only about 500 animals left. I was surprised to find that in many cases accurate numbers on the size of each species are lacking, sometimes it’s completely unknown.

I realize that I’m going on and on about whales but I just found this book so interesting. I’ve never been whale watching, unfortunately, but I plan to do so in the near future, using this book as a handbook.

The book namely includes clever identification keys so when you’re out whale watching you can tell usually by the shape of an animal’s dorsal fin what species has graced you with its presence.

In addition to identification keys and short chapters on each animal containing the main facts, there are also more thorough chapters in the second half of the book about each species and general information about whales, their origin and cultural history.

Again, a fascinating read. Did you know that a blue whale can reach the age of 110?

I hardly have any points of criticism. The only thing that confused me were the maps showing the distribution of each species. Is the distribution of animals represented by the blue or the white area?

I finally came to the conclusion that it must be the blue area which shows the animals’ habitat. It may just be me, but I would have preferred a simple explanation as to how to read the map.

Informative yet compact, I recommend this book to all whale enthusiasts.

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Whales by Jón Baldur Hlídberg and Sigurdur Aegisson is available in Icelandic bookstores and on the website of Forlagid. Email [email protected] if you have any questions.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir

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