Disturbing images have emerged showing dozens of dead pilot whales spread across a remote beach in Iceland.
The photographs were captured by helicopter pilot David Schwarzhans, who spotted the whales while flying over a beach at Longufjorur, on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula of Western Iceland.
It’s unclear how the mammals managed to beach themselves. The region is secluded and inaccessible by car which means it generally hosts very few visitors.
Schwarzhans, a pilot for Reykjavik Helicopters, had reportedly been taking a group of American tourists for a sightseeing tour when he spotted the carcasses strewn across the beach. He claims to have seen at least 50 dead long-finned pilot whales, noting that there could well be more bodies hidden beneath the sand.
Schwarzhans told BBC News:
We were flying northbound over the beach and then we saw them. We were circling over it not sure if it was whales, seals or dolphins. We landed and counted about 60 but there must have been more because there were fins sticking out of the sand.
It was tragic and when we stood downwind it was smelly. It wasn’t something nice to see and quite shocking since there were so many
Although whale beachings are not an uncommon sight at this time of year, the number of whales in this instance is unusual. It is believed they swam ashore at the same time and became dehydrated.
Edda Elisabet Magnusdottir, a marine biologist and whale expert, told Iceland Monitor that when such mammals enter shallow waters “most of them have a tendency to become disorientated”.
Pilot whales are known to use sonar to make sense of their surroundings, a skill which apparently would have been of limited use within this location. According to Magnúsdóttir, if the tide was on the way out, the whales may have ended up stranded.
Pilot whales swim in very tight groups, this could explain why so many of them were stranded alongside each other.