When Do Puffins Arrive in Iceland?

Puffin Iceland

The Atlantic puffin (in Icelandic, lundi), is something of a national symbol, with many tourists and Icelanders alike flocking to bird cliffs to catch a glimpse of these brightly-coloured seabirds.

Of course, if you’re planning your trip to Iceland around seeing these birds, then it helps to know when, exactly, they’re here!

When does the puffin arrive in Iceland?

Puffins spend much of their life at sea and are actually only in Iceland for a relatively short time to breed and nest. They tend to arrive in Iceland beginning in April (usually later in the month, just before May) and generally begin to leave in August. The puffins are usually gone by September. The height of breeding- and nesting-season is from June through August.

In 2024, some of the first puffins of the year were recorded on April 11, when small groups of the black and white seabird arrived on the island of Grímsey and in Borgarfjörður eystri, in East Iceland.

Although the puffin typically begins arriving in April, most puffin tours only begin in May, to guarantee better conditions for sighting the seabird.

More about the Atlantic puffin

Unlike many other cliff-dwelling seabirds, Atlantic puffins will actually dig little holes to build their nests in. Puffins monogamously mate for life, and generally just produce one egg each breeding season. Male puffins tend to spend more time at home with the chick and organising the nest, while female puffins tend to be more involved with feeding the young. Raising their young takes around 40 days.

Until recently, it was actually unknown where, exactly, Atlantic puffins spent the rest of the year. But with modern tracking technologies, these little birds have been found to range as far south as the Mediterranean during the winter season. When puffins leave the nest, they will head off on their own without their parents, finding their own feeding and winter grounds. Over their lives, they will remember and repeat their lonely journey. They don’t always head to warmer climates in the winter, however. Icelandic puffins have been found to winter in Newfoundland and in the open sea south of Greenland.

Puffins are relatively small seabirds, averaging about 47 to 63cm [18 to 25in] in wingspan and weighing generally between 300 and 500g [10 to 17oz].

There are an estimated 8 million adult Atlantic puffins, with a majority of the world’s puffing population, around 60%, nesting in Iceland. Besides Iceland, puffins can also be found nesting in Ireland, the UK, Norway, Russia, the Faroe islands, and Greenland.

The Westman islands, an archipelago off the South Coast of Iceland, has by far the largest puffin colony in Iceland, with around 800,000 breeding pairs. Second place goes to Breiðafjörður, with around 400,000 breeding pairs. A less populated, but stunningly beautiful, bird cliff is Látrabjarg, the western-most point of Iceland.

Read more about bird watching in Iceland.

Westman Islands Company Turns to Seawater Purifiers Amid Crisis

Heimaklettur

After an Emergency Phase was declared in the Westman Islands due to a damaged drinking water pipeline, VSV, a local fishing company, has purchased three containers for seawater purification. VSV plans to use one container for its needs and has offered the others to another local company and the municipality of the Westman Islands.

Emergency Phase declared

At the end of last month, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management declared an Emergency Phase in the Westman Islands after the only drinking water pipeline that runs from the mainland to the Westman Islands was damaged beyond repair. While the pipe is still fully functional, it could break at any moment, leaving Heimaey island’s 4,523 inhabitants without water. The pipe was damaged on November 17 when the trawler Huginn VE unintentionally dropped an anchor on it, which then got stuck on the pipe.

As noted on VSV’s website yesterday, the fishing company has secured the purchase of three containers capable of converting seawater into drinking water. The first container is expected to arrive in the country between Christmas and New Year, with the remaining two arriving early next year.

The press release further notes that since the company only needs one container to meet its own needs, Ísfélagið, another fishing company based in the Westman Islands, and the municipality of the Westman Islands have been offered to buy the other two. Each container and its equipment cost approximately ISK 100 million [$718,000 / €666,000], and it is relatively simple to connect the equipment to the municipal or company water systems.

Green light from Africa

Willum Andersen, VSV’s Technical Operations Manager, revealed that their quest for water purification equipment began after the pipeline was damaged. “We initiated an extensive search for seawater filtration technology, a method prevalent in Florida, USA, the Arabian Peninsula, and many African countries. Despite contacting about 40 global manufacturers, production times ranged from 20 to 40 weeks, too long for our urgent needs,” Willum is quoted as saying on the company’s website. 

In a fortunate turn of events, VSV discovered a Dutch company ready to ship three containers to an African client. These clients were amenable to postponing their order, allowing VSV to step in. “We received approval from the African party midweek, leading to our signing purchase agreements today. Each container, including equipment and delivery to our location, costs between ISK 90-100 million [$718,000 / €666,000], plus installation expenses. Setting up the necessary connections for water production is a quick process,” Willum confirmed. 

VSV’s website details the technology: seawater, drawn from boreholes, undergoes intensive filtration, producing crystal clear, contaminant-free water. Each container can generate approximately 600 tonnes of water daily, totalling 1,800 tonnes if all are used together. This capacity can largely meet the water demands of the Westman Islands’ households and businesses. Additionally, the container’s electric pumps are energy-efficient and cost-effective to operate, VSV maintains.

Drinking Water Pipe to Westman Islands Damaged Beyond Repair

Heimaey, Westman Islands

The pipe that transports drinking water to the Westman Islands has been damaged beyond repair. While the pipe is still fully functional, it could break at any moment, leaving Heimaey island’s 4,523 inhabitants without water. The pipe was damaged ten days ago when the trawler Huginn VE unintentionally dropped an anchor on it, which then got stuck on the pipe.

Pipe must be replaced

A notice from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management states that the damage to the pipe stretches across a 300-metre [980-foot] section. Underwater pictures taken to assess the damage show that the pipe has shifted significantly from its former location. “This situation makes the possibility of a temporary repair difficult,” the notice reads. “The only permanent solution is a new pipe.”

The National Police Commissioner and the Chief Superintendent of the Westman Islands have jointly declared a “danger phase” in effect for the Westman Islands due to the situation. Íris Róbertsdóttir, the local mayor, told RÚV that a response plan is in the works to lay down new piping, which she insists will need to be done by next summer at the latest.

Town will not be evacuated

For the time being, there is no need for Westman Islands residents to save or store water. The town’s water tanks store 5,000 tonnes of drinking water, which could last anywhere from several days to over a week if the water pipe does break fully. The local heating is also dependent on the water supply. Westman Islands’ Chief Superintendent Karl Gauti Hjaltason stated that if the damaged water pipe does break, the town would be able to continue heating homes and buildings for up to two weeks with its stored water.

If additional water is necessary, the current plan is to transport it to the Westman islands rather than evacuate residents. The town authorities are, however, reviewing evacuation plans.

60 Years Since Start of Surtsey Eruption

Surtsey island

Today marks exactly 60 years since the start of the eruption that formed Surtsey island, off Iceland’s south coast. The island, which has been closed to the public since its formation, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. The opening of a photographic exhibition to mark the anniversary has been delayed as Iceland awaits a potential eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, where one town has been evacuated.

The Environment Agency had planned to open a photographic exhibition on Surtsey in the Westman Islands today, November 14, but a notice from the agency says the opening will be delayed. “In light of the serious situation that has emerged, we don’t consider it appropriate to celebrate this milestone at this moment,” the notice reads.

While the exhibit’s opening party has been delayed, the photo exhibition itself remains open to visitors. It features the work of Iceland Review’s principal photographer Golli, who received rare permission to accompany a scientific expedition to Surtsey this past summer. His article and photos from the expedition, Island in the Making, are available to subscribers on the Iceland Review website.

Expert Proposes Ban on Hunting Puffins

puffins iceland

The South Iceland Nature Research Centre proposes a full ban on puffing hunting in Iceland in a new report. Iceland’s puffin population has been below sustainable limits for a long time and its outlook is poor. The Centre’s Director and a Doctor of Biology Erpur Snær Hansen told RÚV that changing hunting regulations would take political will.

Around 20% of the global population of puffins nest in Iceland’s Westman Islands, with other, smaller colonies across the country. The average puffin population in Iceland has shrunk by 70% in the last thirty years. The change is attributed to a scarcity of food for the birds caused by rising sea temperatures. Hunting, of course, causes the birds’ numbers to decline even further.

Population set to keep decreasing, even if hunting is banned

Erpur says The total puffin population in Iceland numbers around 3 million nesting pairs. If puffing hunting is banned, that population is expected to decrease by over 10% over the next decade. If hunting continues to be permitted, however, the population is expected to decrease by 30% or even as much as 50% within that same period.

“This is not sustainable hunting, and the Wildlife Act clearly states that it should be,” Erpur explains. He adds that the current regulations around puffing hunting mean that not all puffins hunted are reported, so the impact on the population could be greater than projected.

Political will needed to ban puffing hunting

Erpur goes on to explain that, unlike ptarmigan or reindeer hunting, for which quotas can be set and changed yearly by inserting a provision into the regulation, puffing hunting is subject to a different set of laws. In order to ban puffing hunting, the Minister of the Environment would need to change that law. “Maybe it can just be said that the political will to do something about it was not strong enough, or that the pressure from interested parties was therefore greater,” Erpur mused.

Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir received criticism for imposing a temporary ban on whale hunting this year, a decision that also caused tension within the governing coalition.

Nordic and Canadian Delegates Meet in Westman Islands

Prime Ministers Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Justin Trudeau

Prime Ministers and delegates of the Nordic countries and Canada arrived in Vestmannaeyjar yesterday, June 25. The annual summer meeting of the Nordic ministers will take place there today, with Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, being a special guest of the meeting.

Attendees include Prime Minister of Finland Petteri Orpo, Representative Páll Magnússon, Westman Islands Mayor Íris Róbertsdóttir, Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Norway Jonas Gahr Störe, Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, Åland Premier Veronica Thörnroos, Greenland Premier Múte B. Egede,  Prime Minister of Sweden Ulf Kristersson, and Faroe Islands Premier Aksel V. Johannesen.

The meeting began last night, with the delegates discussing the situation in Russia in Westman Island’s town hall.

Petteri Orpo, Páll Magnússon, Íris Róbertsdóttir, Mette Frederiksen, Jonas Gahr Störe, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Justin Trudeau, Veronica Thörnroos, Múte B. Egede, Ulf Kristersson, and Aksel V. Johannesen.
Prime Minister’s Office Iceland

Last night, Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Justin Trudeau discussed cooperation and collaboration between the countries in the fields of politics, culture, and trade, in addition to issues relating to immigrants and refugees, the environment, and green energy.

Katrín also met with Petteri Orpo, the Prime Minister of Finland. Orpo assumed office last Tuesday, and his visit to Iceland is his first official visit to a foreign country. Among other topics, the ministers discussed bilateral relations between Iceland and Finland, the security and defence situation in Europe, and matters concerning the Nordic nations generally.

Júníus Meyvant – The Wonderer

Júníus Meyvant is always impersonating other people, and all the people he impersonates are always yelling. His father when he, Júníus, was learning to play the guitar: “Could you play something else!?” His grandfather, on the eve of his 90th birthday, when told he needed to evacuate his home because of an eruption: “I’m not going anywhere!” He, Júníus, when […]

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Man Drowns Following Accident at Westman Islands Harbour

The driver of the vehicle that went into the harbour in Westman Islands yesterday evening has been pronounced dead, RÚV reports. The police have launched an investigation into the incident.

Resuscitation attempts unsuccessful

At 8.18 PM yesterday, the Westman Islands police were notified of a vehicle that had been driven into the Nausthamarsbryggja harbour in the Westman Islands. Speaking to RÚV, Chief Inspector Jóhannes Ólafsson stated that a crew member of a local fishing boat, which was on its way to the port, had placed the call.

A response team was immediately dispatched, and a diver was sent to retrieve the vehicle’s driver, who was alone in the car and unconscious. Despite quick reactions from the authorities, resuscitation attempts proved unsuccessful, and the man was pronounced dead. According to an announcement from the police, an investigation has been launched into the causes of the accident.

Icelandic Police Investigating Possible Child Abduction on Ship

A 15-year-old girl was found on board the fishing ship Grímsnes GK-555 in the company of a 24-year-old man, RÚV reports. The ship’s captain maintains that the crew did not know of the girl’s presence on board and that the man responsible has been fired. Police are investigating the case as a potential child abduction.

Westman Islands police began a search for the girl last Saturday when her parents reached out to them. She was believed to have left the islands by ferry late on Saturday. The Grímsnes GK-555 left Heimaey harbour on the Westman Islands at 4:00 AM on Sunday morning.

Police contacted ship

The ship’s captain Sigvaldi Hólmgrímsson maintains that none of the crew knew that the girl was on board the ship. According to Sigvaldi, police contacted the ship due to a suspicion that the girl was on board. At that point, he asked the 24-year-old man, who confessed to having brought the girl onto the ship. According to RÚV, Sigvaldi is related to the man who brought the girl on board.

Suspected of child abduction

The 24-year-old man was arrested at the Njarðvík harbour on Sunday but was released after questioning. According to police, he is suspected of violating Article 193 of Iceland’s Penal Code, which addresses the abduction of minors. The article outlines that such violations are punishable by fine or up to 16 years in prison, or a life sentence.

The suspect was previously convicted to 12 months in prison for violent offences and threats against two former girlfriends. Sigvaldi stated that he knew of the man’s previous convictions but decided to give him a chance on the ship as he appeared to be working on reforming his behaviour. He was, however, fired after this incident.

In Focus: Iceland’s Ferries

iceland ferry

This spring, the ferry Sæfari will be out of commission for maintenance, in drydock from at least March 20 until May 15. Sæfari services Grímsey, an island 40 km [25 mi] north of the mainland, bisected by the Arctic Circle. The 50-some residents of Grímsey are dependent on the ferry, not just for getting to […]

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