Last Saturday, the 20th of June, a 17 m (55 feet) long fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) was found stranded within the harbour area of Stykkishólmur. Stykkishólmur is a beautiful town at Breiðafjörður and is located at the northerly end of Snæfellsnes peninsula. Though Breiðafjörður hosts a rich ecosystem and is a home to various creatures, large whales such as fin whales are not common visitors within the fiord.
The cause of death is not known and the animal bore no clear injuries that could have led to its death. The whale was weak for some unknown reason and evidently beached itself. It is not known if the animal intentionally tried to swim on land. However, it is more likely that the whale had been seeking a shelter in calmer and shallower waters due to bad body condition, or possibly to avoid predation from killer whales.
The West-Iceland Centre of Natural History (Náttúrustofa Vesturlands) took tissue samples from the animal which later could reveal more about the whale’s condition. The gender is not known since the whale was lying on its abdomen and the genital area could not be investigated. Given the whale’s size it was very likely mature, but fully grown fin whales reach about 22 m (72 feet) in length.
The whale’s body was towed back to the sea where it was allowed to sink down to the bottom in a relatively deep area in Breiðafjörður. It is a sad ending for this magnificent creature, but there will surely be a feast for various vertebrates and invertebrates living in Breiðafjörður the next months or even years to come.
Edda Elísabet Magnúsdóttir
Marine biologist and a whale specialist at the University of Iceland