Words & Images: Bernodus Oli Einarsson
I was only 15 years old when I had the first chance to work with whales at a company called Whales Hauganes, that was the point where I started feeling a deep connection to nature and wildlife and wanted to spend every minute out there exploring and seeing different aspects of my own surrounding. Working as a tour guide on a whale watching ship was a great chance to get to spend more time outside and watch the majestic whales when they spend their feeding season in Eyjafjörður. I’ve seen most of their behavior on feeding grounds, everything from sleeping to breaching for a whole hour nonstop, the quiet moment when they lift their back and smoothly proceed to a deep dive by lifting their tail and disappearing to the deep blue ocean never ceases to amaze me.
Of all the whales I’ve seen the humpbacks remain my favourite because of their unpredictable behaviour and their mysterious presence. Sometimes they will be curious about the boats and will do some spyhopping (eyes out of the ocean with the whale laying straight up in the water with a 90 degree angle on the surface) as well as coming very close to the boat, but sometimes they will just mind their own business and keep on going their way with occasional and unexpected breaching sessions that ranged from 1-100 jumps. Getting so close to the majestic humpback whales was an enlightening experience and I now have a better understanding of how giant they really are. The humpbacks are moving a lot searching for food and I hope they find some clean and nice krill to eat. Recently beached whales have been found with their stomachs full of plastic, so please make an effort to reduce your usage of single use plastics.
The whales affected my view of nature in such a deep way, before I didn’t really understand all the changes that are occurring right now. I didn’t understand the effect the rising temperatures were having on living creatures. Monitoring the travels of humpback whales and minke whales I realised that they were moving further up north every year to colder temperatures because the temperature of the sea is rising. For example, 25 years ago there were almost only minke whales in the fjord where I worked. Now the numbers of minke whales hasn’t decreased, but they have moved towards Greenland and colder oceans while the humpback whales are moving into the fjords in the north. Just to be clear, there could be other explanations of these movements, but this is the one that I saw the strongest connection to.
While that was my life on sea, I spent endless time exploring the country as well. I’ve been living in Iceland my whole life or the last 19 years and that definitely shaped me to who I am today. It’s not the culture or the people, but much rather the nature and the wilderness. The culture has for sure had some impact but living amongst glaciers, volcanoes and wild animals built me and my goals and dreams to what they are now. I think it’s hard to find a country with such extremes to both ends when it comes to landscapes. A part of the highlands is just a big desert with nothing else than sand everywhere, but when the conditions are good you might be able to spot a glacier. There are other parts of the highlands with massive mountains, valleys, glaciers and waterfalls. And that’s just the highlands.
The coast is a whole another issue, there are huge waterfalls, massive cliffs, long fjords and glacial views from far away. All of this has attracted a lot of travelers from around the world that want to experience Iceland and I understand them so well. Luckily I have gathered information and knowledge for some years now and I’m still able to find spots where I’m alone and still have all the things I counted above. Having the quietness and only the sounds of nature around me is a very important factor to me when I’m out exploring new areas, so being able to find these spots is amazing.
My way of traveling Iceland is partly in my 4×4 camper van and then hiking to the spots that I can’t reach with a car and I really like mixing it up this way because doing only one or the other wouldn’t get me as far and I would only reach half of the spots I reach by doing it this way. Me and Donal Boyd named my car Gandalf with help from some of his Instagram followers, the explanation is that it’s old, white and helps me going anywhere and it’s pretty accurate. I’ve been on all kinds of roads with this car and so far it’s doing pretty good, well I don’t want to lie…I’ve had to do a lot more maintenance than I would need to if I just stuck to paved roads but it’s all worth it.
Dear readers, hope you are all well! Just to keep in mind: Benni is just 19 years old! Follow him here and more about the Hálendið Iceland National Park here, a campaign advocating for the protection of the Central highland of Iceland. Hálendið covers 40.000 km2 of the island (103.000 km2), and forms one of the largest territories in Europe which has never been inhabited. Hálendið is one of the last great wilderness areas in Europe.
Take good care, Melanie Kettner!
© all pictures with kind permission Bernodus Oli Einarsson