Amazing Whale Rescue In Iceland

A boat helps herd the whales to safety. (copyright Elding)Saturday July 28 will go down in history as being an extraordinarily good day for whales in Iceland. More than 200 long-finned pilot whales came dangerously close to stranding (beaching) in Njarðvík cliffs close to Keflavík International airport but all were rescued thanks to the great efforts of many Icelanders. Hundreds of residents watched as the pilot whales struggled to find their way back out to sea while instead coming closer and closer to shore. Eight whales beached but were turned successfully back to sea by Icelandic divers. As this went on, whale watch operator Elding´s whale watching boat, full of passengers, came from Reykjavík and joined the rescue operation. But first the massive group of whales had to be pushed further away from shore. A fisherman on a small boat worked on this and managed to herd them far enough out for Elding´s bigger boat to take over and push them further north into Faxaflói Bay and safety. All this took about three hours and thankfully not a single whale died. Last night I searched from different viewpoints to see if there was any sign of the pilot whales but to my happiness they were nowhere to be seen. Hopefully they found their way back to their more natural habitat.
This was an inspiring day for all involved in this amazing rescue. It was also a very unusual situation for Iceland inWhales thrash as they try to head for deeper water. (copyright Elding) several ways. The last time pilot whales beached in Iceland was 1986, in the south of the country. Residents of Thorlakshöfn, a fishing village, woke up to find 100 dead pilot whales on the beach. In 1957 about the same number of pilot whales were found near Njarðvík´s harbour but then, unlike now, they were pushed onto the beaches and all killed by the locals in the same way that some people in the Faroe Islands unfortunately still kill whales. But times have changed in Iceland and now smiling children with their parents, inspired by their proximity to whales and the incredible rescue effort, returned to their homes in the late evening sun with the story of a lifetime. For nine years IFAW has focused on creating positive attitudes toward whales in Iceland and this weekend it was evident that the work is paying off.

Eventually they made it out to sea. (copyright Elding)On Monday, the whales were again spotted dangerously close to land and once more whale watch operators and other local people leapt into action to herd them back out to sea. IFAW’s non-invasive whale research vessel, Song of the Whale, had just arrived in Iceland for the start of a summer field season and the team immediately headed to assist in the second rescue operation. Thankfully, once again the whales were encouraged to head back out to the safety of deeper water. Song of the Whale later located and tracked the whales, making recordings of their sounds and gathering video footage which may provide a valuable insight into their behaviour.

IFAW´s representative in Iceland

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation