My grandmother, who was born in 1898, once told me a story of riding with her father to another fjord when she was a child.
Her father was a priest and a medical doctor, and he had to visit a patient and hold a church service in the fjord at the same time.
It was late spring and the days were long, so when they returned home after midnight in the still night, she remembered seeing the sunset and nearly falling asleep in her father’s arms.
Then, as they rode towards the ocean, she watched the sun come up again over the still sea.
Suddenly, a group of dolphins started swimming in the fjord, jumping and frolicking in the tranquil orange-pink ocean as the sun rose behind them.
A jolt went through her and she sat up in her father’s arms, mesmerized.
This was the most beautiful sight she ever saw, she told me 90 years later.
And dolphins have created a stir among more people than my grandmother.
From mid-July to mid-August this year, scientists from Denmark, the United States and Japan studied the most common dolphin in Iceland, and most likely of the same species my grandmother saw that day in 1903 — the white-beaked dolphin, or the Lagenorhynchus albirostris.
Gísli A. Víkingsson, a whale specialist with the Icelandic Marine Research Institute, led the study on behalf of Iceland.
This was the first study of its kind in the world, during which the scientists tested the animals’ use of sounds and hearing, as well as their movement about the ocean and their habitat.
The study built upon the work of Danish biologist Marianne Rasmussen, who in recent years has studied the animals’ use of sound near Iceland along with the Marine Institute of Iceland and the Icelandic whale-watching ship Moby Dick.
The scientists caught two living dolphins in early August, brought them aboard their ship and tested their hearing.
After placing a sound recorder and a satellite chip on their bodies, the animals were heaved again into the ocean, where they quickly swam away from the boat.
The recorders were programmed to be released from the animals’ bodies after a few hours and then float to the surface.
One did this and the scientists used satellites to find it, but the other one did not come loose as intended.
First results show that the animals appear to cover a larger, more diverse area than the scientists had expected, and stop only for a short time in each area.
Further studies on the white-beaked dolphin are planned in the near future, as very little is known about this is truly a fascinating animal — often the case with marine mammals.
The white-beaked dolphin, characterized by its short, thick creamy-white beak and very curved dorsal fin, is an extremely acrobatic and social animal that you might see riding on the bow-wave of high-speed boats or jumping clear of the ocean’s surface.
They are extremely fast swimmers, very curious and frequently leap towards ships and boats.
They are often seen, as they rarely submerge for a long time, but rather stay close to the surface, constantly moving.
The dolphin is endemic to the North Atlantic and can be found in the North Atlantic between Western Greenland, Iceland and the Barents Sea, south to the state of Massachusetts and France.
It is, however, not as well adapted to Arctic conditions as the beluga or narwhal.
The dolphins are believed to be permanent residents in Icelandic waters.
The population around Iceland is estimated to be 10,000 to 20,000 animals, though they travel usually in groups of about five to 10.
Sometimes big shoals are observed.
Adult males are about three metres long and weigh 250-370 kilos, while females are two and a half to tree metres long and weigh 180-250 kilos. Life expectancy is between 20 to 40 years.
Like all dolphins, the white-beaked belongs to the toothed whales.
They feed on various small fish, such as mackerel, herring or squid, and one may see it feeding among orcas and other whales.