Elusive Bottlenose Whales


I traveled to my home town of Akureyri last weekend, the beautiful capital of the north, where I was greeted with sunny weather, cheerful friends, mouth-watering dinner invitations, ripe and juicy blueberries and crow berries just outside the town limits and an unusually busy downtown on the occasion of Akureyrarvaka – Akureyri Culture Night, which marks the end of the annual Art Summer.

When inquiring about local news I was told the most interesting story of two bottlenose whales—presumably a mother and her calf—that had swum into Eyjafjördur fjord at some time in mid-August.

Since then they have lived in Pollurinn, the Akureyri harbor, occasionally jumping and playing to the delight of the locals, not to mention tourists, who have been spotted running along the harbor with video cameras.

Every day since the bottlenose whales appeared in Pollurinn, the harbor has been lined with enthusiastic spectators hoping for free whale watching without the seasickness.

But apparently it is not safe for the pair to stay in Pollurinn much longer.

The bottlenose whale (Lat. Hyperoodon ampullatus) is a toothed whale, seven to nine meters long and weighing six to eight tons. It is a migratory whale and is usually only found in Icelandic waters in summer.

The bottlenose whale is very curious and can easily be attracted with sounds. It is a particularly sociable and faithful species because it never leaves an injured comrade behind while still alive. The whale mainly feeds on squid and often has to dive deep to the ocean floor to hunt its prey.

Scientists worry that the bottlenose pair in Pollurinn will not survive if they don’t migrate south for the winter—there is not enough food for them in the Akureyri harbor—and they have tried to chase them out of the fjord on boats. But the whales keep returning.

Once the larger of the two disappeared for almost 48 hours, leading scientists to believe that the mother had left her injured calf in shallow waters while hunting for squid. Her plan might be to help the calf recover until it is fit enough to migrate south with her.

The theory that the calf is injured is also supported by the fact that when the whales are playful only the bigger one jumps out of the water.

I have never seen a whale and I’ve always wanted to go whale watching. My company planned to go whale watching this month as part of the annual autumn staff celebration, but those plans were canceled due to the prospect of potentially bad weather and rough seas. I was disappointed, although we are going horseback riding instead, which is always enjoyable.

So imagine my excitement when I heard about free whale watching at the Akureyri harbor.

There was a nip in the air and Mt. Vadlaheidi on the opposite side of the fjord had begun dressing up in her autumn colors. The wind rippled the blue-gray Pollurinn, and every now and then, I, along with the other spectators, thought we saw a whale’s tail. But no, it was only a wave. And we waited and waited in vain. Not bottlenose whale spectacle for us.

I guess I have to make do with this video and these photographs taken by luckier whale watchers who were kind enough to share their experiences with the world. I was bummed out, of course, but at the same time I’m hoping that the calf will recover in time for the pair to migrate south before winter falls, as I’m sure many Icelanders plan to do too.

Maybe these friends of Akureyri will return to Pollurinn next summer and treat me with their presence some other time. In the meantime I’ll just have to pay for whale watching, which will certainly prove my money’s worth.

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Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.