Westman Islands, Iceland

Jul 07, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer


Our final full day aboard National Geographic Explorer was overflowing with adventure. Just after breakfast, while sailing toward the Westman Islands, we spotted a pod of pilot whales. At first, there appeared to be only a few. But as we continued to watch and passengers gathered on deck, we realized the whales were abundant! Swimming along the surface and showing off their huge melon-shaped heads, the pilot whale pod was soon joined by several white-beaked dolphins that frolicked along the bow as we made our way to Surtsey.

National Geographic Explorer slowed her pace as we sailed past the brand-new island of Surtsey, formed in 1964 when a volcanic eruption occurred 130 meters below sea level. This island is being studied by volcanologists and biologists to understand how life will colonize this barren exposed rock. With subdued, overcast light, we had dramatic views of this newly created island.

Naturalist Madalena Patacho gave an informative and timely presentation on marine mammals of Iceland as we approached to Heimaey. As she spoke, the Explorer was surrounded by northern gannets, northern fulmars, and Atlantic puffins.

The harbour entrance into Heimaey (home island in Icelandic) was breathtaking and the dramatic cliff of Heimaklettur (home rock) dwarfed the ship. Upon landing, some guests chose a tour on which they visited a dense colony of nesting black-legged kittiwakes, a Viking longhouse replica and finally, the southern tip of Heimaey—home to the windiest weather station in the Northern Hemisphere. Following that, they toured Eldheimer Museum to learn about Eldfell volcano’s dramatic eruption in 1973 and subsequent, successful evacuation of all 5,000 town inhabitants. Other guests chose to hike up Eldfell’s volcanic mountainside and were rewarded with a stunning 360-degree view of Heimaey.

As we sailed from the Westman Islands toward Reykjavik and prepared to say goodbye to this magical place, the sun made an appearance as gannets soared along the bow. We gathered together one final time for Captain Aaron Wood’s farewell cocktail party during which we viewed the voyage slideshow which so beautifully portrayed all the adventures we shared.

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About the Author

Karen Velas

Naturalist

Karen Velas cares deeply about protecting the environment and its wildlife.  Over the last 15 years, she has been involved with numerous conservation projects, including working as the Lead Project Coordinator on the California Condor Project with The National Audubon Society, managing projects in the flooded rice fields of California’s Central Valley with The Nature Conservancy and surveying the distant cliffs of Iceland to aid in puffin recovery with the South Iceland Research Centre.

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