Whale Watching tour guides found themselves in the role of rescuers on Thursday when members of their expedition spotted two bottlenose whales that beached themselves on the shore of Engey island just off the Reykjavík coastline, RÚV reports. The animals were thought to have chased mackerel up onto the beach and gotten stuck there.
Guests on an afternoon whale watching expedition with Special Tours saw the beached bottlenoses and reported it to the staff, who quickly took a small boat out to the island to try and help the animals. When he reached the shoreline, Sverrir Tryggvason said that the whales were alive and breathing, but that there was a great deal of blood around them on the shore. It was decided that he and his fellow rescuers would attempt to keep the animals alive until high tide - between 8:00pm and midnight - when they would hopefully be able to swim away again. Moving the animals earlier was not an option: full-grown bottlenose whales can weigh between three and three and a half tons and measure seven to nine meters in length.
The rescuers' first step was to cover the animals with towels and pour water over them so they wouldn’t become too dry in the sun. Later that afternoon, the tour operators turned rescuers were joined on Engey by biologists, as well as members of Search and Resuce, the Coast Guard, and others. They decided to transport a seawater pump to the island so that water could be more easily poured over the animals in greater quantities. (See videos of the rescue efforts on RÚV here and here.)
Unfortunately, one of the whales died around 7:00pm, about an hour and twenty minutes before the other was able to free itself in the rising tide and swim back out into the ocean (see video here). Rescuers followed behind the whale for a short time after and said that it swam away in the direction of Snæfellsnes. Dr. Edda Elísabet Magnúsdóttir, a marine biologist at the University of Iceland who specializes in whales, said that the result was unexpectedly good, considering that bottlenose whales should normally not be able to survive for so long on dry land. Usually, they'd be expected to survive for around two hours once beached, but rescuers were able to keep the second whale alive for six hours before it was able to swim away again.
Bottlenose whales have frequented Icelandic waters this summer, particularly in the north and east of the country.