I’m sure there were other interesting things to talk about today, such as the adorable town of Isafjördur (the largest town in the peninsula of Westfjords), the gorgeous hike to the waterfall, the delicious cake, talk of elves and trolls (very important to respect the elves) etc., but today I only care about animals.
First, I saw cool horses on the hike to the waterfall, and a few of them came over to say hello. They were incredibly photogenic, as you can see (or will be able to see once I can upload photos). Then I meet two Arctic fox pups at the Arctic Fox Center, one of who loves to chew on and lick shoes (well, he enjoyed licking and chewing on my shoe). This musky little ball of fluffy joy reminded me so much of Boozer (aka my Chihuahua).
Arctic foxes are the sole native mammal on Iceland and are remnants of the ice age. The species was trapped on the island as the ice retreated and set up as an established species. All other terrestrial mammals on Iceland are invasive, including mice. Arctic foxes in Iceland are not white like we see in other regions (though that is a winter color, they are darker in the summer). In Iceland, these adorable bundles of bliss are considered a “blue morph” with a milk chocolate color in winter and darker brown in summer. They burrow into the ground or snow when the temperature drops, just like Boozer likes to burrow into human beds and under blankets. There’s been a decline in the population on Iceland since 2008 and their population can fluctuate with their food source (lemmings are their primary diet). These precious noodles are well adapted for life on the shore, feasting on berries and shorebirds when necessary. They are true scavengers, just like my little dog (aka “the scammer”). Their only predator in Iceland is man, who might not share my sentiments towards them and instead view them a pest (i.e. to farm animals) or a profit (i.e. fur coat). (Note to all: fur is murder, please don’t purchase any products with fur and limit the purchase of any animal products…).
In the afternoon, there were whales. Oh, so many whales! This is why I’m only writing this blog now right before bed, as I spent hours looking for and at whales (please excuse spelling errors, etc.). First we saw humpback whales, about a half dozen, swimming around the bow of the Explorer. They were gorgeous and I did manage to get some photos with my camera. After the temperature dropped and a light misty rain crept in, a pod of orcas were hunting around the ship for about an hour. At first, it was one. Then we counted three or four. By the end of the hour, there were about fifteen whales, swimming in a line in front of the ship. I was too excited to run back down and grab my camera (or sensible shoes, since I was in flip-flops and sans rain gear). I managed a few decent shots on my iPhone as they swam along. But simply watching them swim was amazing, and the experience is so much better than a photograph. They were magnificent. There was one large male and one or two babies. I have never seen killer whalers before in the wild, this was a magical moment for me. And worth the chilly, wet sea air.
There’s a paradox here in Iceland, as whales are hunted while at the same time promoted as tourist attractions, since this is the whale watching capital. Fin and minke whales are hunted for food, but there is a campaign here in Iceland protesting whaling, “Meet us don’t eat us”. As you should know, but perhaps do not, there are two groups of cetaceans (aka whales): toothed and baleen. Humpbacks are baleen whales and primarily eat krill. Orcas are top predators with their sharp, vicious teeth. Humpback whales “summer” in Iceland, and eat as much as they can before wintering and breeding elsewhere (i.e. Caribbean). Killer whales seem to be undergoing speciation in the North Atlantic, as distinct groups are forming within orcas. I love whales and all things whale. Do not throw trash in the oceans (especially plastic), do not eat whales, and do not support organizations that exploit whales. These majestic creatures do not belong in captivity and are truly the ocean royalty.
This is a humpback whale. In case you did not know.
A last, non-animal related highlight of the day: when the recap included a reference to Always Sunny, “you have to pay the troll’s toll to get in the troll’s hole” (Brian was discussing tunneling in Iceland, genius).