Dozens of dead pilot whales were discovered on Löngufjörur beach on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, West Iceland, on July 18, 2019.
The bodies were discovered by tourists on a helicopter tour visiting this very remote region, inaccessible by car.
A helicopter pilot for Reykjavík helicopters and American tourists onboard the helicopter noticed the whales during a sightseeing flight.
Judging from pictures they took, all the whales are dead. And the dead bodies stretch over a long distance!
This part of the beach, Gamlaeyri, located on the easternmost part of the south side of the peninsula, is off the beaten path and inaccessible by car. There is little traffic in the area, limited to that of hikers and horse riders.
Arilíus Kristjánsson, farmer at Stóra-Hraun, on the south side of Snæfellsnes, told a local newspaper that he cannot recall any whale mass beaching in the area before – but it may have happened without anyone having noticed it.
Investigations will be needed to know exactly why the pilot whales have beached there. In other places, i.e. New Zealand, such mass die-offs are not uncommon.
Pilot whales are deep-sea whales, common at the continental margin. They mainly feed on squid, which is why they’re good at diving deep. But when they enter shallow waters, most of them have a tendency to become disoriented.
They use echolocation for orientation, for finding one another, estimating the depth, and so on. But a sloping, sandy bottom appears to increase their disorientation. There are numerous examples of them having beached where there is such a sandy, sloping bottom.
But other factors such as tide, strong currents and strong winds can also affect the behavior of whales once they’re in a dangerous zone.
If they are deep sea whales, those pilot whales may have felt an underwater earthquake… Or just may have been killed by military sonar exercises. We will probably never know!