Edge of the Arctic Ocean

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My dad took me on my first whale watch when I was a kid, on one our summer trips to Goose Rocks, I think, we headed out from Kennebunkport. We saw lots of whales, really close to the boat. My father thought it was great. I was sick as a dog. I still remember the fruit loops I had had for breakfast…because I experienced them again just a few minutes into the boat trip.

I’ve gone on other whale watches since then. Most notably the one Adrian and I took in Nova Scotia in a zodiac, bouncing across the waves. I didn’t get as sick, thank god, but we also didn’t see any whales in the choppy water.

So it was not without a little trepidation that I headed out on a three hour tour (insert Gilligan refrain here) from Husavik Harbor this morning.
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Luckily I and calmer seas both prevailed and we saw some remarkable whales.
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(See, Dad? Not green around the gills this time. Just freezing cold!)

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The iPhone pics don’t really do them justice, but these humpbacks were right up close to the boat and were thrilling to see. We also ran into some friendly dolphins and a couple of speedy minke whales.

I can’t quite figure out what the actual laws are, but minke whales are still hunted here. I was on the fence a bit about eating whale. I want to experience native cuisine but I also want to be a good citizen of the world. But from what I’m learning, tourist appetite accounts for about half of all the whale meat eaten in Iceland, and many scientists believe the species is being hunted above a sustainable level. So whale meat is definitely off my menu.

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After the whale watch, I trudged up the hill to the whale museum, in a converted sheep slaughterhouse.

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There I marveled over the skeleton of a narwhal (among other things–see above for one strange thing to attach an image to).

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I’ve been fascinated by narwhals since sixth grade science when we did a big project on whales that included each student making a model of the whale she researched. I painstakingly crafted a narwhal out of clay but its damn horn kept breaking off so in the end it just looked like a discolored beluga.

Anyway, narwhals like the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean but it hadn’t occurred to me that they might be nearby until I was at the museum, at which point it felt silly to be disappointed that I hadn’t seen one, but I couldn’t help it.

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Whale might be off the menu, but guillemot’s not!

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The guillemot is a common seabird in these parts. It’s part of the auk family, which includes puffins, I think. They’re also eaten here but I haven’t decided whether or not to try puffin. From what I’ve been able to glean, the guillemot and puffin numbers are high enough not to be damaged by the food trade. Though I’d feel better if I knew about a management system, similar to herd management during hunting seasons in the US.

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One other thing…
I now have it from two reputable sources (the owner of my current guesthouse and today’s bus driver to and from Husavik) that Tom Cruise is persona non grata in these parts. Apparently, he and Katie Holmes were here just before they declared their separation. Tom rented a big house across the bay from Akureyri and purportedly tried to get the road his house was on shut down to other traffic, but it was the only road up the hillside. And when he needed to get around, he took a helicopter and flew it low over the fields, scaring the sheep and horses and angering the farmers. Both of my sources think he’s not a very good actor and the bus driver credits the clear air in northern Iceland for causing Katie Holmes to “wake up and come to her senses.”

Never did I think I’d come all the way to Iceland to catch Hollywood gossip. Apparently Russell Crowe is here now.

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