A List of Endangered Species of Iceland

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

The Flag of Iceland
The Flag of Iceland / liangpv via Istock

Iceland is a Nordic island country and the most sparsely populated in Europe.

The country sits between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean and has a total area of 103,125 km2 (39,817 sq mi).

The country’s terrain includes a plateau with ice fields, mountain peaks, and fjords, large inlets that glaciers have carved out of the soil.

Another noteworthy fact about Iceland is that it is a volcanic island that experiences on-and-off volcanic activity.

The general notion many have about Iceland is that it is a country with more snow than people, but this is wrong.

Empty icelandic road | franckreporter via iStock

However, a good portion of the country is covered in ice and water, which help some of the wildlife in the country survive.

Despite the reliance of many species on Iceland’s natural state, global warming has caused ice to melt and water levels to rise over the years.

The effects of global warming on the country, amongst other things, have caused some animals to face endangerment threats.

Here are some of the endangered species of Iceland:

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5. Blue Whale

Blue Whale and Hector Dolphine
A blue whale and hector dolphine comparison / T. Bjornstad / License

The largest living animal, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), is a baleen whale found in every ocean except the Arctic.

Blue whales are humongous mammals that also inhabit the waters around Iceland, particularly during summer.

They may be easily seen in the clear waters surrounding the island when they surface to breathe or plunge deep beneath the ocean in quest of food.

As mentioned, these mammals are the largest living animals.

Female blue whales weigh more than males, and average around 247,000 pounds, while males reach 220,000 pounds.

The length of these whales depends on their location, but they are as long as 72 to over 100 feet.

A blue whale on a sunny day
A blue whale on a sunny day / Wirestock via Istock

Along with their long bodies, these whales have slender builds.

The term “blue whale” relates to their blue-gray coloration, which is speckled and appears pale blue underwater.

It is possible to identify individuals using the variable mottling pattern.

Over the years, Iceland’s waters became a place for interested persons to watch and observe the blue whale.

However, at some point in the 20th century, these whales were driven to extinction in the area because of commercial whaling.

Although the blue whale population in the region has since recovered, the IUCN still classifies the species as endangered.

4. Fin Whale

The fin whale
The fin whale / Lycaon.cl / License

The fin whale, scientifically known as Balaenoptera physalus, is a majestic creature that inhabits the waters around Iceland.

Otherwise called the finback whale or common rorqual, the fin whale is a migratory species.

Like blue whales, fin whales move to the waters surrounding Iceland during summer to feed and mate.

Only surpassed by the blue whale, the fin whale is the second-largest living mammal.

The size of these whales depends on their habitat, but they weigh between 85,000 and 139,000 pounds.

Their lengths also rely on their location, measuring between 61 and almost 90 feet.

Fin whales have V-shaped heads and smooth, streamlined bodies.

A fin whale off the California coast
A fin whale off the California coast / JG1153 via Istock

Around two-thirds of the way back on the body, they feature a tall, hooked dorsal fin that rises at a shallow angle from the rear.

The back and sides of fin whales are black or a dark brownish-gray tint, while the underside is white.

These whales also have asymmetrical head pigmentation, with a dark lower jaw on the left side and a white lower jaw on the right.

The fin whale has been in Iceland’s folklore, literature, and art for a long time.

Fin whales were also food sources for many Icelanders because of their weight.

However, during the late 20th century, Iceland’s commercial whaling sector experienced considerable difficulties, primarily because of pressure from environmental organizations like the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

3. Sei Whale

The sei whale
The sei whale / NOAA United States. National Marine Fisheries Service / License

The sei whale, scientifically known as Balaenoptera borealis, is a baleen whale species that inhabits many oceans of the world, including the ones surrounding Iceland.

However, the commercial whaling that has been going on for more than 70 years puts the sei whale population in Iceland in danger.

Despite the global prohibition on commercial whaling, Iceland has persisted in hunting whales, notably sei whales, arguing the necessity to protect its fishing industry and cultural legacy.

The sei whale is also a baleen whale and is equally big.

Like some other whales, the sei whale’s size depends on its habitat.

Sei whales weigh between 33,000 and 41,000 pounds and average between 45 and 72 feet.

Three Sei Whales (Balaenoptera borealis) surface in waters of the southern Chilean Fjords
Three Sei Whales (Balaenoptera borealis) surface in waters of the southern Chilean Fjords / Dr John A Horsfall via Istock

They have long, sleek bodies that are either white or cream on the underbelly and a dark bluish-gray to black color on top.

In addition to mild mottling spots or blotches, the body frequently has oval-shaped scars.

Since only a few hundred sei whales are left in Iceland, the species is in danger of extinction.

Because sei whales are social and intellectual animals, hunting them also creates ethical issues.

Iceland has never complied with the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling set by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

As a substitute, they abandoned the IWC in 1992 but returned in 2002 with a reservation regarding the moratorium.

2. North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)
North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) / NOAA United States. National Marine Fisheries Service / License

The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), one of three right whale species in the genus Eubalaena, is a baleen whale.

This species is one of the most endangered whales in the world.

Only a few hundred of the original population remain now due to decades of population decline.

This species is threatened by human activities, including fishing, shipping, and oil exploration in Iceland, one of the countries where it still lives but is endangered.

North Atlantic right whales are enormous, and although their weight varies, they can weigh as much as 140,000 pounds and reach over 50 feet.

They have a stocky black body with a “V”-shaped blow spout.

Northern atlantic right whale underwater shot
Northern atlantic right whale underwater shot / Foto4440 via Istock

They also have large, sharply notched black tails with smooth trailing edges.

Their bellies could be completely black or could have oddly shaped white patches.

One of the primary reasons for this decline is the hunting of these whales by Icelanders.

Shipping represents a further danger to Iceland’s North Atlantic right whales.

Iceland’s shipping industry is vital to the nation’s economy, yet it endangers the whales greatly.

The whales’ communication can be hampered by ship noise pollution, which affects how they feed and spawn.

Ship collisions with the whales can also result in injury or fatality.

1. Orca (Killer Whale)

Orca Whale, Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, BC Canada
Orca Whale, Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island, BC Canada / Dave Hutchison Photography via Istock

Otherwise called the killer whale or Orcinus orca, the orca is the biggest member of the oceanic dolphin family.

All oceans and the majority of seas contain orcas.

As such, it is challenging to assess their relative distribution because of their wide range, number, and density.

However, in recent years, the population of orcas in Iceland has been declining, and they are now considered endangered.

As mentioned, orcas are the largest species in their family.

Males are between 20 and 26 feet and weigh around 13,000 pounds.

Family of killer whale orca swimming beneath the surface of the ocean
Family of killer whale orca swimming beneath the surface of the ocean / Philip Thurston via Istock

The easiest way to identify orcas is by their distinct coloring; typically, the orca’s body is predominantly black on the upper side and white on the underside, creating a stark contrast.

This species also has long triangular dorsal fins and pectoral fins in the shape of paddles.

Orcas are primarily fish eaters, and their diet consists mainly of herring, salmon, and other smaller fish.

However, overfishing in Iceland has depleted these fish populations, making it harder for orcas to find enough food to sustain themselves.

Pollution is another major problem for orcas in Iceland.

Chemicals and toxins from industrial waste and sewage runoff can accumulate in the orcas’ bodies, leading to health problems and reproductive issues.


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