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Whale Washes Up on Icelandic Beach

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Whale Washes Up on Icelandic Beach

Skógafoss waterfall seen from a distance, across a pond.

Photo: Geir Ólafsson.

The carcass of a 15-meter-long sperm whale has washed ashore in South Iceland.

The whale is on the beach at Skógasandur on the farm Ytri-Skógar, near to Skógafoss waterfall. Due to recent high waves, the whale is high up on the beach and partly buried in sand.

Authorities have decided to leave it where it is for now and let nature take its course. An autumn storm could take it back out to sea again.

Under Icelandic law, a beached whale carcass must be reported to the police, the Environment Agency, the Marine Research Institute and the Natural History Institute. A beached whale is more of a bother than a blessing these days, but in past centuries it was akin to a lottery win for poverty stricken Icelanders. ‘Hvalreki’ (beached whale) is still the Icelandic word for a sudden stroke of good fortune, to this day.

Even under today’s law, a whale carcass is the property of the landowner—unless the Natural History Institute wants it.

The Marine Research Institute took samples from the whale yesterday. It is apparently a bull whale and large for his species; as they grow to a maximum of 16-17 meters. Only bull sperm whales are found around Iceland, with the cows remaining much further south.

It has been decided to let the carcass stay where it is, at least for now, and see what happens and if it disappears back to sea again. “We think it’s best for nature to have its way here, if it’s not a nuisance to anybody,” the Environment Agency’s Guðmundur B. Ingvarsson told RÚV.

The whale’s jaw has been removed with permission of the farmer, and it is believed the person’s intention is to extract its teeth—possibly for decorative purposes.

Visitors to the area are reminded that the sandy beach cannot support cars, though it is possible to drive quite close to the site.

See a video of the whale carcass here.

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