Polar Bear Turned Out to Be a Seal

gray seal

Iceland’s Coast Guard sent a helicopter out on an unusual call yesterday afternoon when hikers in the Westfjords’ Hornstrandir Nature Reserve reported sighting a polar bear. While the white giants are not native to Iceland, they have been known to drift to the north coast on sea ice on rare occasions. Two Westfjords Police officers rode out with the helicopter, which was accompanied on the mission by search and rescue ship Gísli Jón.

The helicopter crew flew over Hornvík bay (where the sighting had been made) and the surrounding area, as well as spoke to the hikers, who were convinced that they had seen a polar bear.

A notice from Westfjords Police states: “No bear was found. The animal that the people believed was a polar bear seems to have been a large, white-coloured grey seal that had been spotted recently in Hornvík.”

Westfjords Police thanked the Coast Guard and ICE-SAR for their collaboration on the call out, adding: “Better safe than sorry.”

Rescued Seal Pup Recovering in Reykjavík

A seal pup that was hardly alive when it was found in Reykjavík harbour earlier this week is recovering well at Reykjavík Zoo, RÚV reports. Reykjavík Animal Services are treating the pup and plan to release it back into the wild.

“It was in really bad condition. It was exhausted and hungry. It didn’t come to until I bent over it,” said Veigar Friðgeirsson, a Reykjavík Animal Services staff member.

Asked what caused the seal pup’s poor condition, Veigar stated: “What is most likely is that its mother simply stopped breastfeeding it and giving it food. The proportion of young seals that die in this way is actually fairly high.”

Veigar says the seal pup is recovering well. “We started by pumping water into it, and vitamins. It responded well to that. Now, in consultation with a veterinarian, it gets a fish shake four to five times a day. Then we’re going to try to give it a whole fish soon. I’m very optimistic.”

The rescued seal pup’s sex is not known, but it will be named Veiga or Veigar after its caretaker, who expects it to make a full recovery. “We want wild animals to live in the wild, so we’ll try to return it to the sea if that’s possible,” he stated.

I’m a musician: how can I get press coverage of my music in Iceland?

Söngvakeppnin - Daði og Gagnamagnið

Iceland has a lively music scene, with a plethora of diverse performing and recording artists. Local media does a fine job covering new local releases and concerts, particularly the Icelandic national radio, but also local print newspapers, both in Icelandic and English.

When it comes to music, Icelandic media has quite a local focus, and when international artists are covered, they are usually artists that are well-known globally, or have a special connection with Iceland (like, for example, having lived here for many years, such as Damon Albarn or John Grant).

If you are coming to Iceland to perform, contacting local newspapers and radio is a good bet in order to get press coverage. If you’d like to know more about the local scene, you can contact Iceland Music, the music export office of Iceland. While they mostly help Iceland-based musicians to develop their careers, they also connect international musicians to the local scene.

Musicians from abroad who come to record in Iceland are also eligible for a 25% refund of the costs incurred in recording in the country: more information at record.iceland.is.

I read that Reykjavík Zoo is expanding its seal enclosure; how many seals live there?


Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo is currently home to four seals: Særún (female), Svavar, Garðar, and Kópur (male). Særún is the oldest, born in 1989, while Svavar and Garðar were born in 2017 and Kópur in 2019. The three younger seals are a bit more active than Særún and are known to jump when they’re excited about something, like an upcoming meal. Særún has slowed down with age but has learned to communicate well with her keepers: she bites at the air when she wants fish.

With a depth of 1.7 metres, the seals’ current pool is fairly shallow. Its volume is therefore also small, just over 100 metres cubed. The new pool, which will connect to the old one, will quadruple the total volume of the pool and will be more than four metres [13 feet] deep, allowing the seals more room for diving. Unlike the current seal facilities, the new enclosure will conform to the guidelines of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. The expansion is expected to be complete by November 2022.

Most of the animals at Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo are domestic animals such as sheep and goats. Keeping seals at the park has been controversial. In 2019, Marine biologist and Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo division head Þorkell Heiðarsson argued that pups born in the enclosure should be released into the wild. Icelandic law, however, does not allow seals to be released from captivity.

Seal Pup Found in Iceland Swam Home to Greenland

A seal pup found in Iceland about five months ago has now returned to its home turf in Greenland. The ringed seal (pusa hispida) pup was found behaving strangely in Njarðvík harbour, Southwest Iceland, and was taken to the Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo to receive medical attention. After a five-month recovery in the care of experts, he was released into the wild and has made it back to Greenland.

Police who found the seal pup in Njarðvík noted its strange behaviour and decided to take it to the Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo. Ringed seals do not live along the Icelandic coast, but they are fairly regular guests to Iceland and the zoo’s veterinarians had treated some before. The pup, which was later named Kári, was found to be malnourished and suffering from an eye infection. Kári made a full recovery at the Zoo and once healthy, was taken to the Westfjords, where he was released on May 2.

Tracking device shows Kári by Greenland

Since then, both experts and the public have been able to follow Kári’s movements thanks to a tracking device that was fastened to his back. Kári first headed due north from Iceland, eventually turning west, then north again to reach the coast of Greenland around May 18, just 16 days after he was released. Readers can see Kári’s trip and follow his movements online.

Seal Pup Found in South Iceland Likely Far From Home

seal pup

Icelandic police took on an unusual project last Friday when they found a seal pup behaving strangely in Njarðvík harbour, Vísir reports. The seal was delivered to Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo, where upon examination by experts it was found to be malnourished and suffering from an eye infection. Its caretakers plan to release it back into the wild when it has regained its health.

Likely far from home

The pup has been identified as a ringed seal (pusa hispida), the smallest and most common seal found in the Arctic. “Ringed seals are pretty common guests in Iceland and we’ve dealt with them before in the zoo,” says Þorkell Heiðarsson, department head at the institution. “The ringed seal is a polar species that follows the ice edge around the Arctic, including north of Iceland.”

“It’s therefore clear that this pup is far south of its natural habitat,” Þorkell explains. “On the other hand, it’s well known that young ringed seals go wandering and are found along Iceland’s coast, usually in the north.” The pup in question appears to be less than a year old, and has lost more than 10kg (22lbs) since it was weaned. Þorkell says zoo staff are doing their best to fatten him up and hope it will be possible to release him into the wild once he is healthy.


Another pup found in Ireland

Þorkell notes that a ringed seal pup was rescued on the west coast of Ireland last week near Shannon. “It’s the first ringed seal to be found there in over 100 years. In times when sea ice is rapidly declining and along with it the habitat of Arctic animals, it’s not unlikely that competition for the limited resource of ice intensifies and more animals will wander. Whether this visitor is a consequence of this is entirely uncertain, as the species is, as previously stated, a fairly frequent visitor here.”

Seal Hunting Ban in the Works in Iceland


A ban on seal hunting in Icelandic waters could soon become a reality. The Ministry of Industries and Innovation published a draft of the proposed legislation online last Friday. The hunting ban would apply to all seal species, particularly the two that breed in Iceland: harbour seals and grey seals.

The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) send a letter to the Ministry of Industries and Innovation last summer following an assessment on the size of harbour seal stocks in the country. Research shows that the number of harbour seals has decreased greatly since 1980. According to experts, Iceland’s harbour seal stock should ideally number at least 12,000 individuals, but is currently around 21% lower. The Institute has thus proposed a direct ban on harbour seal hunting. It has also proposed ways to combat harbour seals landing in fishing nets as by-catch.

As for grey seals, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Iceland’s stocks are considered vulnerable. The Marine and Freshwater Institute has proposed a direct ban on hunting of the species, as well as requiring the registration of any hunting that is excepted from such a ban.

The MFRI believes the economic impact of banning seal hunting would be negligible, as the practice has been on the decline in Iceland for many years. Icelandic residents have until November 4 to send in comments on the proposal.

Seals Gain Protected Status in Reykjavík

Seals are now protected within the Reykjavík City limits and the surrounding area. The next step is to ensure the protection status of seals in the general law, according to mammal ecologist Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir at The Icelandic Institute of Natural History, RÚV reports.

The Environment and Planning Committee of Reykjavík City approved a proposal to make seals protected within coastal areas surrounding Reykjavík, as well as near estuaries. All hunting of both common seals and grey seals will cease within the jurisdiction of the city. Reykjavík City’s website states it is necessary to improve the legal status of seals and to create a framework to control seal hunting. The decision doesn’t have a formal legal effect but is more of a statement of intent.

“We hope that more municipalities follow suit, but what matters most is to ensure that seals become legally protected, so they have adequate protection in Iceland,” said Ester Rut from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History.

The common seal is listed as an endangered species in Iceland while the grey seal is listed as vulnerable. The common seal (phoca vitulina) is a coastal animal, living closer to the shore, while the grey seal (halichoerus grypus) is an ocean-going seal. The common seal is sometimes named the speckled seal. The two species are considered among the most common seal species in the world. However, the species have faced tough times in Iceland in recent years. “We have no knowledge of why it’s happening, but there’s a clear reason to react,” said Ester. Further investigation needs to take place regarding the reduction of the seals. Common seal numbers have decreased by 77% in a 35-year timespan. In years past, they were hunted in considerable numbers but no major hunting has taken place in recent history.

“It might be bycatch that causes the reduction when they accidentally get caught by nets intended for other species. That type of hunting is relatively common but is most often not registered,” commented Ester.