My home from home for the next few weeks will be the small town of Grundarfjörður which lies on the north coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. The whole peninsula is often referred to as a miniature Iceland and it is a very popular tourist destination. The glacier-topped Snæfellsjökull volcano, standing at 1446m, is the highest mountain on the peninsula and dominates the landscape. The volcano was the setting for the classic Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Grundarfjörður has done well from the fishing industry over the years but in recent times the area has started to attract a whole new international crowd hoping to witness a new winter phenomenon. Since 2011, groups of orca (Orcinus orca) have regularly been spotted out in the bay during the winter months causing much excitement amongst locals, tourists and researchers.
As with all wild whales and dolphins, prey availability dictates their movements and the reason the orcas have shown up in Grundarfjörður recently is a direct response to a shift in the wintering habits of their prey – the Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) – one of the most abundant fish species on earth. If you want to find out more about orca then you really need to understand the natural history of the herring! The Icelandic herring stock, or Sild, as it is known locally, used to spend the winters in the fjords in the east of Iceland but in 2006 some of the older stock shifted their distribution to the Grundarfjörður area. However, it took a few more years before the orcas figured this out and now, from December to March each winter, the orcas appear to be a regular feature giving people a golden opportunity to see these iconic and charismatic mammals. Please follow the blogs over the coming weeks as we attempt to give you an insight in to the lives of the whales, the people and landscapes of this stunning island.