Among the animals found in Iceland, the species 28 are mammals. Before humans settled in Iceland in the 9th century, the Arctic fox was the only land mammal that inhabited the island. Today it is flourishing with both wild and domestic mammals introduced by humans. Icelandic horses and sheep are perhaps the best known mammals on the island, with an Icelandic sheep population estimated to be three times larger than the human population! This article discusses some of the mammals found on the island.
The Atlantic Pulcinella.
The puffin is a small species of bird. During the spring breeding season, the puffins have colored beaks. During the winter their beaks become gray. The coat of a puffin is predominantly white and black and the beak is large and resembles that of a parrot. Their main diet consists of small fish but they also feed on zooplankton. It is known that puffins dive down to 200 feet below the water level to hunt.
- Dolphin with a white beak
A dolphin with a white beak.
The white-billed dolphin is the dominant species of dolphins found in Iceland. They have white or light gray sides. The beak of the male is completely white while the beak of the female is only white at the end. White-billed dolphins gather in social groups composed of related and unrelated dolphin members around the same age group and, in some cases, of the same sex. It is estimated that almost 30,000 white-billed dolphins inhabit the coast of Iceland. Their main food source is the gadoid fish that includes whiting, cod and haddock.
A narwhal in the ocean.
The narwhal is one of the two species of the Monodontidae family, the other is the beluga whale. Unlike their female counterparts, the male narwhals have an elongated canine tooth that resembles a tusk. They are generally found in groups of 5-10. Their primary diet consists of Arctic cod, cuttlefish, shrimp and halibut. They are threatened by humans, polar bears, sharks and killer whales and their number has dropped to around 75,000. The Narwhals are known to suffocate during the winter if they are trapped in blocks of ice. To avoid this, dive 2,620 feet during the cold period to avoid predators and freezing temperatures.
- Gray seal
A gray seal in the ocean.
The harbor seal and the gray seal are the two species of seals that originate from Iceland. The gray gasket is larger than the port seal, reaches the feet 9 and weighs 370-680. Gray seals can be distinguished from harbor seals by the fewer body spots, thick shoulders and a broad, pointed head. They inhabit the western, southern and north-western coasts of Iceland. They are found in large numbers in the Myrar area, in Breidafiord bay, in the Strandir area and on the Skagi peninsula. The gray seals feed on species of benthic or demersal fish and dive to the feet 230 to hunt.
- European rabbit
A wild European rabbit.
European rabbits were introduced to Iceland as humans and originally kept as pets. Most of them were released in the wild as recently as 2010 which caused their numbers to multiply. They are now considered an invasive species.
European rabbits are found in large numbers in Reykjavik where they cause havoc on farms, gnaw tree roots and chew through fences. It is known that they accumulate on motorways and cause traffic accidents. In 2014, the environmental department of Reykjavik municipality plans to completely remove rabbits from the area and impose strict rules on those who keep them as pets.
- Humpback whales
A humpback whale.
The most distinctive feature of the humpback whale is its hump and black dorsal coloring. They inhabit oceans and seas around the world. Humpback whales feed on polar water but they migrate 16,000 miles to tropical or subtropical waters to reproduce.
They are found in the Snaefellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland and migrate to the Mediterranean to give birth. They are curious animals and it is known that they move close to the boats to take a look at the people. The animals are able to jump and throw acrobatically exposing their bellies and caudal fins.
- Arctic fox
An arctic fox.
The Arctic fox is credited for being the only land mammal in Iceland prior to the settlement of humans. They are believed to have walked on the ice to the island, but they ran aground when the ice melted over 10,000 years ago. They are found in different places on the island but are concentrated in the western fjords, in particular in the Hornstrandir reserve, where they are protected.
An Arctic Fox Center was founded in Súðavík in 2007 to protect and study them. In Iceland, arctic foxes are found in the morph colors, white and blue. White foxes change their color seasonally unlike their blue counterparts.
- Icelandic dog
Icelandic shepherd dog
The Icelandic sheepdogs were introduced to Iceland by the early settlers. They are smaller than other common dogs. This breed of dog was almost extinct in the 19th century, but a ban imposed on other species of dogs entering the country and vaccinations have recovered the population. Icelandic sheepdogs have a soft coat and a curled tail and are known to be elastic, agile, energetic and friendly. Most of these dogs are found in the countryside where they developed a herd instinct.
- Icelandic sheep
An Icelandic sheep.
Icelandic sheep were introduced to Iceland from Norway by the first settlers. There are approximately 800,000 sheep in Iceland, which represent double the number of people living on the island. Their wool is used to produce handicrafts such as the Icelandic sweater, while the meat of animals is common in many dishes, including the famous lamb soup. According to the researchers, the meat is delicious because the sheep can move freely and naturally.
- Icelandic horse
An Icelandic horse.
The Icelandic horse, which was introduced into the country from Norway, is more sociable and curious than other horse breeds. Their character and appearance have made them very popular in dressage.
The global demand for Icelandic horses is high and they live outside the country than in Iceland. Just like the Icelandic shepherd dog, the Icelandic horse is susceptible to disease, and other horse breeds have been banned from the country. Riding the Icelandic horse is essential for tourists visiting the island. Animals can be used for caving, snorkeling and sightseeing.