Westman Islands, Iceland

Jul 24, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer


Our expedition leader Lucho’s voice dragged us from our slumber once again this morning, and it wasn’t to announce breakfast. This time, a sperm whale had been spotted from the bridge, and this was worth getting up for, as they are not a common sighting. The glassy surface of the ocean was disturbed only by the whale’s movement, before it raised its fluke and dived down into the deep. However, it wasn’t long before more cetaceans were seen. A large pod of pilot whales was feeding at the surface and we were once again summoned to enjoy the encounter. Before long, even this was topped by the most iconic of marine predators—the killer whale—when the bridge team spotted a pod among the diving gannets near the island of Surtsey.

Just off these spectacular cliffs, it was a frenzy of activity in the water with gannets plunging into the ocean to feed, and small groups of killer whales and pilot whales seemingly in every direction. Once we had filled our memory cards and gorged on the wildlife feast on display, National Geographic Explorer headed for Surtsey, to give our guests an entirely different view from the ship. Surtsey did not exist until a volcanic eruption in 1967 pushed it up through the ocean. Since its creation, this island has become a place of great interest to biologists as it has gradually been colonized by various lifeforms.

After lunch, we began our dramatic entrance into Heimaey, another island shaped by volcanic activity. The island erupted in 1973, covering half of the town in lava and nearly closing the harbor, threatening to leave the islanders’ only exit blocked.

Some of us chose to climb this volcano in the afternoon and witness not only breathtaking views but also the heat escaping at its summit. After the hike, we made our way down to the exceptional volcano museum built around some of the houses submerged in the tephra from the eruption, and right on the edge of the town’s new limits. Other guests chose to explore the town, particularly the island’s first microbrewery, Brothers Brewery, where we sampled the Eldfell Volcano Red Ale (named after the nearby volcano), a Puffin Summer Ale, and a sour beer flavored with blueberry skyr. Those who stayed to sample more were left to stumble back to the ship for the captain’s farewell cocktails and a final meal on board National Geographic Explorer.

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About the Author

Rory Mulloy

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

Rory’s underwater experiences began while working on a citizen science project in Tobago, conducting surveys of coral reefs with Coral Cay Conservation. After completing a degree in foreign languages, and returning to his hometown London, it wasn’t long before Rory felt the lure of the ocean. Thanks to serendipitous circumstances (and some words from President JFK) he soon quit office life to pursue his dream job of working with great white sharks in Australia.

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