Evacuation Partially Recalled, Roads May Open Soon

Seyðisfjörður

The partial evacuation of two East Iceland villages–Neskaupstaður and Seyðisfjörður–has been recalled for the former, Austurfrétt reports. Some area roads are still impassable but may open later today.

High winds, heavy snow

As reported, high winds and heavy snow began moving into the region at the start of the weekend. These weather conditions, combined with the tall, steep mountains that East Iceland is famous for, can increase the danger of avalanches.

These two villages, like many other human settlements in East Iceland, rest at the foot of such mountains. For this reason, the neighbourhoods in these villages most in direct danger of an avalanche were evacuated on Saturday.

Roads may reopen today

While Möðrudalsöræfi, Fjarðarheiði and Vopnafjarðarheiði–heath areas with roads connecting coastal villages to the main highway–are still closed at the time of this writing, they may reopen this afternoon, weather permitting.

The current forecast for the region shows snow continuing through the day, but with winds calming down. Check the Met Office site and SafeTravel before venturing into the area.

The Heath

seyðisfjörður jessica auer

Jessica Auer is a Canadian photographer and filmmaker. Through her work, she examines our social, political, and aesthetic attitudes towards places, including historical sites, tourist destinations, and small communities. Jessica received her MFA from Concordia University in Montréal, where she teaches part-time. While in Iceland, Jessica runs Ströndin Studio, an educational and experimental centre for […]

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Iceland News Review: Drama in the East and Joyful Reunions

INR

In this episode of Iceland News Review, political intrigue in the east of Iceland, the economy looking bright as wage agreements are signed, Palestinian families reunited at last, an effort to bring our folk tales home, and much more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

All About East Iceland – The Eastfjords

East Iceland

What is there to do in the east of Iceland, and how long should you spend in the region? What are the main towns and villages in Iceland’s Eastfjords, and how many people live there? Without further delay, let’s find out all there is to know about East Iceland. 

The Westfjords and the Eastfjords are considered to be Iceland’s most mysterious regions, for the simple fact that they are less accessible than the others. 

This is true of the Westfjords because of its lack of infrastructure – a true wilderness with very few settlements and tarmac roads – while the East is simply on the opposite side of the country from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, and thus does not fit into many visitors’ schedules. 

While the Westfjords is best left for truly adventurous travellers, Iceland’s east is well-worth a visit for those who make the time for it. The most natural way of doing so is by taking a full tour of the country, following Route 1 – or the Ring Road – which circles the entire island.

Why should you visit East Iceland? 

traditional farm iceland
Photo: Golli. A dog rests outside a turf house in East Iceland

Known locally as Austurland, East Iceland is quiet, idyllic, and brimming with natural splendour. Thin fjords and winding cliffside coastal routes, tiny hamlet villages and epic mountainscapes; all can be found in this spectacular and rarely-visited region. 

With that in mind, it should be obvious that there are many, many reasons to take some time out and explore this majestic part of the country. Let’s explore a handful of them below:

Geology in East Iceland

 

Geologically speaking, East Iceland is one of the older parts of the country in so much as it resides on the Eurasian tectonic plate, divided by the Mid Atlantic Ridge in the middle of the island, and thus splitting from the North American plate on the west. In fact, the ancient ruins of over 14 central volcanoes can be found in the east, with many of them clearly visible on the landscape. 

Speaking of geology, Austurland also happens to be a great producer of Iceland Spar – otherwise known as Iceland Crystal, Solar Stone, or Optical Calcite – which is found at Helgustaðir mine. 

This beautiful carbonate mineral is capable of double refraction, meaning that objects seen through the crystal will appear twice rather than once. Be aware, however, that it is strictly prohibited to take samples of Iceland Spar, so make sure to appreciate this beautiful mineral without touching it.  

Weather in East Iceland

Laundry hanging outside in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Drying clothes.

East Iceland also happens to be the sunniest place in Iceland during summer. That means it’s the go-to place for anyone hoping to ensure their summer vacation on the island is, at least, somewhat tropical.

Bear in mind, however, that East Iceland is generally colder than the rest of the country in winter, a consequence of the East Greenland Current that flows by the coast, and reduces the temperature of the sea’s surface. As such, winter tends to start earlier in the east, and last for longer. 

Wildlife in East Iceland 

A group of reindeer
Photo: Golli. A herd of wild reindeer.

The wildlife in East Iceland is also worthy of note. For instance, it is the only location in the country where it is possible to see herds of wild reindeer. These animals are not native to Iceland, were first imported in the 18th century – between 1771-1787 – for the purpose of building up a population akin to that in Lapland. 

The decision to bring reindeer to Iceland was experimental in nature. Though the intention was to bolster local agriculture, it was quickly discovered that many of the reindeers were ill suited to the cold-weather environment and a lack of sustenance. 

As such, the small populations introduced to the islands of Vestmannaeyjar, the Reykjanes peninsula, and Eyjafjörður fjord did not survive for long. 

However, those brought to Vopnafjörður fjord in East Iceland remained something of a mystery. For a while, it was believed that reindeer had become extinct, until a small herd of 100 animals was miraculously discovered grazing amid the local landscape. Their survival is testimony to East Iceland’s temperate conditions. Nowadays, approximately 7000 of the original herd’s descendants live freely between Jökulsá á Fjöllum river and Vatnajökull glacier

A reindeer in East Iceland
Photo: Náttúrustofa Austurlands, via Facebook

How to spot wildlife in East Iceland?

 

Those hoping to spot reindeer during their trip should know that these magnificent animals stick to higher ground during the summer months, primarily at their favourite spot, Mount Snæfell. Therefore, it is usually easier to spot them during winter, when they descend the mountain to low-lying land in search of food. 

East Iceland also happens to be a fantastic place for bird-watching. If you’re hoping to see Atlantic Puffins, it is recommended you visit Borgarfjörður Eystri between late-April and mid-August. 

With boardwalks and viewing platforms built into the cliffs, it is possible to observe these beautiful creatures soaring over the ocean surface, or hopping between their coastal nests. It is estimated that the area attracts around 10,000 Atlantic Puffins every single year, and you can find this gorgeous fjord approximately one hour’s drive from Egilsstaðir.

What mountains are in the Eastfjords?

Borgarfjörður eystri east iceland
Photo: Golli. Mountains are a constant sight in East Iceland.

As stated, East Iceland is very much defined by its narrow fjords and towering mountain peaks. While it can be difficult to pick out favourites given the beauty of Icelandic mountains as a whole, there are a couple that require more attention. 

Vestrahorn Mountain 

The peaks of Vestrahorn are so dramatic as to appear sharpened deliberately by  blacksmith-savvy Gods. When looked upon against the black sand dunes of Stokksnes, hardly a more visually epic mountain can be found in the whole of Iceland. 

No surprise then that it was one of Iceland’s most photographed mountains.

 

Relatively uncommon for Iceland, Vestrahorn is one attraction located on private land, meaning you will need to pay an entrance fee at the nearby Viking Cafe in order to explore its hiking trails. 

To reach the mountain, you will need to take a ten minute detour from the Ring Road, closeby to Höfn village

At the base of Vestrahorn mountain is a historically-accurate Viking Village. This interesting little site was originally built as a movie set, but the production was never completed (though it was later utilised as a location in Netflix’s The Witcher.) 

Still, this replica of a Viking Village makes for a cool bonus stop during your time in the area. It might even let you get into the mindset of an ocean faring warrior. 

Bulandstindur

 

 

If you were assigned a task to illustrate the traditional mountain shape, you would likely draw Bulandstindur. Recognised as the defining symbol of Djupivogur municipality, this perfect pyramid peak rests between two scenic bays. Berufjörður and Hamarsfjörður. It is well worth stopping by when in the area.

Standing at 1069 m above sea level, it is said the mountain is around 8 million years old. This titan of the landscape can be found close to Goðaborg, a vast mountain ridge that holds a place of particular importance in Icelandic history. Upon the Icelanders’ conversion to Christianity in the year 1000 AD, it has been claimed that people ascended Goðaborg to dramatically discard the Norse idols they had once so revered. 

What else is there to see in East Iceland?

 

There are plenty of other interesting things to see and do in East Iceland, but it would be remiss of us not to mention many of its other wondrous natural sites. 

Hallormsstaðaskógur Forest

Auroras above the trees
Photo: Golli. The auroras lighting up the trees!

Hallormsstaðaskógur is Iceland’s largest forest; a sprawling woodland that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the landscape for the simple fact that there are so many trees. In total, 740 hectares are covered largely with birchwood, plus over 79 other species, interspersed with shaded walking trails and quaint picnic spots. 

Hallormsstaðaskógur is worth visiting because, in many ways, it is not representative of Iceland at all. One of the first things visitors notice about the country is its lack of trees. However, it was not always the case that the landscape was as barren as we see today. 

Students of history will remember that Iceland was once covered in forests, but the early Norse settlers chopped much of it down to fuel their homes and build their ships. In doing so, they damaged much of the soil cover, making it almost impossible for trees to regrow naturally. Today, the Icelanders are making a concerted effort to reforest their country, and the fruit of these efforts can already be seen through the many leafy saplings meticulously dotted around the countryside. 

Viti Crater Lake in Askja

Askja volcano iceland
Photo: Ulrich Latzenhofer. Wikimedia Commons. CC.

Lake Viti might more accurately be described as residing in the Central Highlands than in East Iceland. But it is still worth a mention due to its sheer novelty. After all, how many people can say they’ve swam in the 25°C waters of a former volcanic crater? 

Viti crater lake is located in Askja region, which was once its own area in the Dyngjufjöll mountain range. However, the collapse of a 50 sq km magma chamber during the last Ice Age created an enormous caldera in the landscape. This laid the foundations for the region as we know it today. 

Another eruption, this time in 1724, added further depth to this already concave landscape. It soon allowed in glacier water. After this happenstance – what has since been labelled the Mývatn Fires – Lake Viti and its sister water body, Öskjuvatn, were created. Given the utter violence of its history, it should come as little wonder that both Viti and Askja translate to ‘hell’ – thankfully today, it is more like a paradise. 

Stuðlagil Ravine 

Stuðlagil
Photo: Private Stuðlagil & Dettifoss Super Jeep from Lake Mývatn

Visitors to this gorgeous canyon will immediately notice two things. Impressive basalt columns that make up its 30 m (98 ft) high outer walls. And the sapphire-green water that runs in between them. 

Stuðlagil was once something of a secret site. But after its exposure in an in-flight magazine in 2017, visitors were quick to discover its otherworldly aesthetic. 

What waterfalls can you visit in East Iceland?

 

Wherever you travel in Iceland, waterfalls are a staple part of the landscape – and the east is no exception! 

In fact, East Iceland has waterfalls that more than rival those in other regions. Especially when discussing their utter beauty and complete isolation. If you’re hoping to be the only visitor to such features, then the cascading waters in East Iceland are for you. 

Below are a few notable examples. It is by no means a comprehensive list of all the waterfalls you can see in this part of the country. 

Klifbrekkufossar Waterfalls

 

 

Hidden deep inside Mjóifjörður, the seven-drop waterfall that is Klifbrekkufossar is a well-kept secret for a reason. Located in a region that is home to no more than eleven people, its name translates to ‘Climbing Slopes Waterfall.’ A testament to the lush green hills that surround it 

Unlike many of the waterfalls found along, say, the South Coast, Klifbrekkufossar will require far more pre-planning to visit. That is because the road that leads to it is only open during the summer, between June to September. Even then, the journey still requires a 4×4 vehicle. In the winter, Klifbrekkufossar is completely inaccessible. 

Even so, appreciating its ethereal beauty under the Midnight Sun makes it more than worth the effort. And, adding to its uniqueness, the waterfall is not fed by glaciers. Instead, it is the flow of Fjarðará river, which finds its origins in the lakes and smaller water-bodies found in the heath above. 

Hengifoss Waterfall

 

 

Hengifoss takes the bronze prize as Iceland’s third highest waterfall at 128 m high. It takes just short of one hour to hike up to this splendid feature from the car park. But the sight of its tumbling water and surrounding basalt-strata cliff sides make it unforgettable. 

In fact, the rock that encloses the waterfall switches between black and red due to layers of clay. This makes it particularly photogenic on sunny days. The site can be found within Hengifossárgljúfur gorge, which itself is a part of Fljótsdalur valley. It is one of the most popular hiking areas in the whole of East Iceland. 

It is best to visit in June and July when the waterfall is at its broadest, though there will likely be larger crowds. 

Rjúkandi Waterfall

 

Given the wealth of waterfalls visitors can see while travelling the Ring Road, Rjúkandi is sometimes overlooked. 

This is a shame. Though it lacks the infrastructure of some of Iceland’s more famous falls, it does have its own car park and walking path. Hence, it is very accessible for those interested in seeing it. 

This 90 m high waterfall is situated in Jökuldalur valley. This valley is famed for other fantastic sites like Stuðlagil ravine and Stuðlafoss waterfall. The latter is encircled by such sheer basalt columns as to appear out of a fantasy novel. Rjúkandi appears more natural with its green slops on either side, and rocky ledges that interrupt the otherwise smooth tumbling of water.  

Are there towns and villages in East Iceland?

Neskaupstaður
Photo: Golli. Neskaupstaður from above.

Despite little of Iceland’s total population living in East Iceland, visitors can still find many towns worth stopping by. Below, you’ll find a handful of the more interesting places you can visit.

Egilsstaðir is the largest town in East Iceland, home to approximately 2500 people. Founded in the 15th century, the town’s rapid growth in modern times can be attributed not only to the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant, but also the large-scale and controversial aluminium smelting taking place at nearby Reyðarfjörður village. 

Today, Egilsstaðir has its own airport, college, and hospital. It also has many notable attractions nearby, including Hallormsstaðaskógur National Forest, Hengifoss waterfall, and the scenic mansion farmstead, Skriðuklaustur.  Skriðuklaustur was the former home of famed Icelandic writer, Gunnar Gunnarsson. 

Neskaupstadur is another lovely little eastern town; home to little more than 1400 people. Due to the strong socialist proclivities its residents held throughout the 20th century, Neskaupstadur has been nicknamed ‘Little Moscow.’ That may be stretching the imagination. Instead of Byzantine towers, or monolithic Soviet flats, guests will discover quaint white homes by the shoreline. All of which are surrounded by pleasant green meadows and towered over by a sweeping mountain ridge. 

What are some other places in East Iceland?

 

Smaller still is the quiet village of Djupivogur, which only has around 400 residents. Whereas once it was fishing that was responsible for their livelihoods, today tourism is of greater importance. One can see it in the rapid growth of hotels and restaurants in the area. The countryside around the village is idyllic, but also dramatic. The shadowy form of Búlandstindur mountain dominates the horizon line. A constant reminder as to the wild and untameable reality that is life in the east. 

The town of Reyðarfjörður boasts fantastic harbour conditions, hence its history in fishing and trading. However, it was because of its favourable position and strategic importance that Reyðarfjörður was the second largest Allied base during WW2. Above the town, visitors can stop in the WW2 museum that was built in the former camp where soldiers were stationed. Today, Reyðarfjörður’s economy is driven by aluminium smelting. But it is still worth stopping by thanks to its startling natural scenery and relevance to history. 

Founded in 1848 by Norwegian fishermen, Seyðisfjörður town. Here should be of particular interest to those who wish to visit Iceland but have a fear of flying. The reason? The only car ferry between Iceland and other countries, the MS Norröna, makes port here each week. The final stop on its travels between Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands and Hirtshals in Denmark.

Scuba divers should also know Seyðisfjörður’s coastal waters are the resting place of the shipwreck, the SS El Grillo. This oil tanker was bombed and sunk during the Second World War. 

In Summary 

A woman looks out over Breiðdalur in East Iceland
Photo: Mindfulness yoga tour around Breiðdalur valley

Visiting East Iceland might take more planning – not to mention more time – but it is more than worth the effort. 

The East is one of, if not the, most beautiful regions in the country. It provides a fantastic glimpse into this island’s culture, history, and nature that is not possible to acquire elsewhere. 

So, do you have the inclination to add some real depth to their Iceland trip? Make sure to include the east’s attractions, activities, and settlements into your itinerary.  

Political Shake-Up in East Iceland

Neskaupstaður

A controversial municipal council decision regarding area schools has sparked protests, and led to the dissolution of the council majority. Talks are currently being held for the formation of a new council majority, while school employees and many parents continue to object to the proposed changes.

Combining area schools

The story begins in Fjarðabyggð (pop. 5,070) in east Iceland, comprising the towns of Neskaupstaður, Reyðarfjörður, Eskifjörður, Fáskrúðsfjörður, Stöðvarfjörður, Mjóifjörður and Breiðdalsvík. Its municipal council has nine seats, divided between three parties: the Independence Party (four seats), the Progressive Party (three seats), and the regional party Fjarðalistinn (two seats). Up until recently, the council majority consisted of the latter two parties.

Last month, a special work group of representatives of these parties sought to make changes to the school system of the region. As Austurfrétt reported, this would entail combining all regional preschools under the auspices of Leikskóli Fjarðabyggðar, while doing away with the position of assistant principal; combining all regional grade schools under the auspices of Grunnskóli Fjarðabyggðar, also doing away with the assistant principal position; and combining all regional music schools under similar auspices, with the assistant music school director reduced to a 75% position.

The objection

When this proposal was put before the municipal council for a vote, all voted in favour except for one person, Fjarðalistinn representative Hjördís Helga Seljan Þóroddsdóttir. She contends that the move would degrade the quality of the regional schools, and objected to what she said was a lack of cooperation between the council and the schools to work out a solution.

The objection came as a surprise to other members of the council, and while the measure was passed, eight to one, the Progressive Party later announced it was ending its coalition with Fjarðalistinn.

New coalition, same problems

The Progressive Party and the Independence Party are reportedly now in talks over the creation of a new municipal council majority. Should those talks prove successful, challenges over the schooling matter will still remain.

The Icelandic Teachers’ Union has objected to the proposal, which is due to go into effect in August. The union contends that the council does not have the authority to make changes of this degree. In particular, they cite regional law on residential democracy.

Similar objections have been raised by parents’ associations, citing laws for both primary schools and preschools that major decisions must be made in cooperation with parents, which these parents contend was not done.

A petition on the matter, calling for these proposed changes to be ceased, has garnered some 750 signatures. How the municipal council will respond remains to be seen.

Iceland Weather: Storms, Road Closures, and Avalanche Risk

winter tires reykjavík

Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) is currently closed over Öxnadalsheiði heath, between Akureyri and Reykjavík, due to weather. Yellow weather warnings have also been issued across much of the country today due to strong winds. The Icelandic Met Office declared an “uncertainty phase” in the East Fjords this morning due to the risk of avalanches.

Seyðisfjörður alavanche risk

There was heavy precipitation in Seyðisfjörður last night, with continuing precipitation at higher elevations and a strong E-ENE wind in the mountains, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office. Precipitation should slow throughout the day, and the wind speed is expected to slow and change direction to a northerly. Experts are monitoring conditions closely.

Strong winds and blowing snow

Gale-force winds are expected today across much of Iceland, including the Westfjords, West, North, East, and Southeast. Wind speeds in these areas could reach speeds of 20 metres per second. Blowing snow is in the forecast for most of these regions as well. Poor driving conditions can be expected as a result of weather, as well as traffic disruptions and road closures.

Travellers and affected residents are encouraged to monitor weather and road conditions before setting out.

Drinking Water Contaminated in Borgarfjörður Eystri

Residents of Borgarfjörður Eystri, Northeast Iceland, have had to boil their drinking water for two weeks due to the discovery of coliform bacteria in both of their water sources, RÚV reports. The water supply has been drained and chlorinated.

East Iceland’s Public Health Authority discovered bacterial contamination in the supply during routine sampling in late September. The results came in on October 2 and residents were immediately told to boil all drinking water.

Soil subsidence a likely cause

The cause of the contamination is likely a pipe that was pulled out of a well in the spring above Brekkubær, providing a way for pollution to enter the water. “This has probably come about because of soil subsidence [sinking ground] in the wet land in that area,” stated Glúmur Björnsson, a geologist at utilities contractor HEF Veitur. Glúmur stated that staff has since chlorinated the wells and water tank and rinsed the system. “And we hope that will be enough for us to solve this.”

No illnesses reported

However, contamination was also detected in other wells, which means the dislocated pipe may not be the only cause. Authorities may install a UV water purifier in the system to kill germs. For the time being, residents must continue to boil drinking water. No illnesses have been reported in connection to the contaminated water.

Read More: A Wealth of Water

About 95% of Iceland’s drinking water is groundwater, most of it untreated. This groundwater is extracted from springs, wells, or boreholes. While Iceland’s drinking water is generally safe, waterborne disease outbreaks do occur. During the two decades between 1998 and 2017, there were 15 registered waterborne outbreaks in Iceland affecting 8,000 people and leading to over 500 registered illnesses. All of them occurred in small water supplies.

Thousands of Cigarette Stubs Wash Up on East Iceland Beach

Svanbjörg Pálsdóttir. Cigarette stubs washed up on the beach in Eskifjörður, East Iceland, August 16, 2023

A resident of Eskifjörður, East Iceland was shocked to see thousands of cigarette stubs washed up on the shore of the fjord yesterday. It is unclear where the cigarette stubs came from but many residents speculate they were dumped by a passing ship. The stubs have since been cleaned by the municipality of Fjarðabyggð. RÚV reported first.

Svanbjörg Pálsdóttir went for a walk on the beach in Eskifjörður yesterday. At first she thought the yellow material dotting the rocks was seaweed but then realised it was thousands of cigarette butts. “Which ships are dumping this into the sea,” she asked in a Facebook post for residents of Eskifjörður, calling on authorities to look into the pollution and stop it from happening again.

Svanbjörg wrote to the municipality of Fjarðabyggð to alert them to the issue. The municipality reacted immediately and had the beach cleaned the same day. It is not clear whether authorities will investigate the source of the pollution at this stage.

Three Dead in East Iceland Plane Crash

fatal accident Iceland

Three died last night, July 9, in a plane crash southwest of Egilsstaðir.

First responders in East Iceland were called out last night after following reports of a missing plane, reported to be a Cessna 172. The 4-seater aircraft sent out a distress call around 5:01pm. In addition to ICESAR and a coastguard helicopter, Vísir reports that a helicopter from a tourist travel service also joined the search. Nearly all East Iceland first responders were called out.

The wreckage was seen around 8:00pm last night. Initially spotted by an Icelandair flight en route to Egilsstaðir, the crash site was confirmed by the tourism helicopter.

The three, including the pilot and two passengers, were pronounced dead at the scene.

East Iceland police have stated that the case is still in its early stages and they will investigate the matter further with the proper authorities.

Iceland’s Popularity Grows – Among Walruses

Köfunarþjónustan ehf. / Facebook. A walrus takes a break in Sauðárkrókur, Northwest Iceland

No fewer than four walruses have wandered over to Iceland so far this year. Walruses are not native to the country but since the start of this year, individuals have made stops in East Iceland, the Westfjords, Northwest Iceland, and the capital area. Walruses can be dangerous and readers are warned against approaching them.

Last Thursday, archaeologists working on a dig in Arnarfjörður in the Westfjords spotted a walrus out in the water. It was later spotted sunning itself on the shores of the fjord near Hrafnseyri, RÚV reports, and stayed on into the weekend. Just a few days earlier, a different walrus made himself at home on a floating dock in Sauðárkrókur harbour in Northwest Iceland. “It’s our new pet,” port security officer Ágúst Kárason told reporters. “He’s damn big and hefty, an adult with big tusks.”

Followed to work by walrus

In early June, a staff member of the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Hafnarfjörður, in the capital area, was accompanied by a walrus on his morning commute. “I was biking and he followed me from Herjólfsgata street to Fjörukráin restaurant by Strandgata street. There he turned around and swam out into the fjord,” Jón Sólmundsson told reporters. “He was also curious, there were some people that stopped to watch him and he seemed to be considering them too.”

Yet another walrus spotted in Breiðdalsvík, East Iceland in February turned out to be celebrity walrus Thor, who had spent the winter sightseeing around the UK with stops in the Netherlands and France. Walruses seen in Iceland generally arrive from the shores of Greenland or from northern Norway, but Thor may have travelled from the Canadian Arctic. There were no indications that any of the four walruses were the same animal.

Swam from Ireland to Iceland

More walrus visits have occurred in Iceland over the past few years. One was spotted on June 17, 2022 in the town of Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland. A GPS tag on the animal revealed that it had swum over from the Faroe Islands. In September 2021, a walrus spotted in Höfn, Southeast Iceland turned out to be Wally the Walrus, who had been previously spotted in Spain, Wales, and the Isles of Scilly (off the UK coast). Wally had last been seen in Cork, Ireland before being spotted in Iceland, meaning he had swum over 1,000 km [620 mi] to reach the island.

Icelandic subspecies went extinct after human settlement

Iceland used to be home to a special subspecies of walrus, but it became extinct around 1100 AD, most likely due to overhunting by humans. Walrus tusks were considered precious at the time and were sought-after by royalty in Scandinavia and elsewhere. Other factors, such as rising temperatures and volcanic eruptions, may have been factors in the animals’ extinction as well.