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  • Animals

    Watch: Record number of humpback whales in Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland

    By Staff

    Humback whale Jumping in Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland. Photo/Hauganes Whale Watching, Facebook.

    Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland is full of whales, local whale watching guides say. Travellers taking whale watching trips have been treated to amazing demonstrations by these gentle giants.

    The following video, shared by a local whale watching company shows two humpbacks jumping in front of one of the whale watching boats:

    One of the owners of Whale Watching Hauganes, one of the whale watching firms in Eyjafjörður fjord, and the oldest whale watching firm in Iceland, told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service RÚV that conditions in the fjord were unusually good. Usually the whales stay further out, not venturing very deep into the fjord, but this time around the large number of humpbacks have been swimming deep into the fjord.

    A growing humpback population
    The large number of humpback whales in Eyjafjörður is also remarkable when compared to earlier years. These giants of the oceans rarely visited the fjord, but in recent years their numbers have increased:

    "The first few years after we began whale watching in 1993 we never saw humpback whales. But then the numbers increased around 200 and by 2011 we are seeing a humpback whale on every single whale watching trip."

    Whale watching guides have counted at least 20 whales in the fjord.

    A marine biologist who spoke with RÚV said the humpback whale population in Icelandic waters has been growing steadily in recent years. In 1987 the population counted 2000 individuals, but recent estimates put the number at 10-15,000 animals.


  • General

    "The Mountain" denies all accusations: Stories of domestic violence lies, fueled by personal hatred

    By Staff

    Hafþór Júlíus Icelandic strongman, best known for his role as "The Mountain" on the TV series Game of Thrones, is facing serious charges and accusations of physical, emotional abuse. Photo/Hafþór Júlíus, Instagram

    The Icelandic strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, better known as "The Mountain", denies all charges and accusations of domestic violence. 

    Read more: Strongman "The Mountain" facing new serious accusations of domestic violence

    The local newspaper Fréttablaðið published a front page interview with Hafþór's former Fiancé, Thelma Björk Steimann, on Saturday, where she accused him of having subjected her to physical and emotional abuse during their 2 year relationship 8-10 years ago. The couple has a daughter together. Thelma and her daughter currently live in Copenhagen in Denmark.

    Accusations fueled by personal hatred, greed 

    Thelma Björk Steinmann
    Thelma Björk Steinmann Hafþór and Thelma began their relationship when she was 17 years old. The relationship lasted 2 years. The couple has a daughter together. Photo/Helgi Ómars

    Shortly after Fréttablaðið published its interview with Thelma Hafþór wrote a statement on Facebook where he rejects all the accusations made by Thelma. He says the accusations are "first and foremost colored by personal hatred" of him. He also claims that Thelma was very "emotionally unstable" during the time the couple was together. Hafþór claims that it was he, not Thelma, who was the victim of emotional and physical abuse in their relationship:

    "I never subjected Thelma to any kind of violence. However, our friends and family talked about Thelma having been both physically and emotionally violent towards me. I'm certain that many others, including some of Thelma's closest relatives, have a similar experience with Thelma."

    Hafþór also rejects the statements by a second woman whom he had a relationship with until last year, that he had attacked her. The Metropolitan Police responded to several domestic disturbance calls involving arguments between the two at the home of Hafþór.

    Read more: Breaking: Charges filed against strongman "The Mountain" for domestic violence

    On June 15 this woman filed charges with the police against Hafþór for domestic violence. Hafþór rejects these charges, stating that there is no evidence he ever attacked the woman. I his Facebook post he also alleges the charges are part of a ploy to blackmail him into a financial settlement with the woman, arguing she and her lawyer have made exorbitant financial claims in relation to their break-up.

  • General

    Strongman "The Mountain" facing new serious accusations of domestic violence

    By Staff

    World's second strongest man Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, better known as "The Mountain" from the Game of Thrones is facing more accusations of domestic violence. Photo/Valli.

    Europe's strongest man and Game of Thrones star, the Icelandic strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, better known as "The Mountain", is facing new accusations of domestic violence. A former fiancé accused Hafþór of beating her over a long period when the couple was dating. The couple have a child

    Read more: Breaking: Charges filed against strongman "The Mountain" for domestic violence

    Several other women have come forward in recent weeks to accuse Hafþór of domestic violence. The police has been called on several occasions to his home to respond to domestic disturbances. The front page interview with Hafþór's former fiancé in the local newspaper Fréttablaðið has caused quite a stir in Iceland, contributing to an ongoing national conversation about domestic violence.

    Teenage sweethearts, violent relationship 

    Thelma Björk Steinmann
    Thelma Björk Thelma now lives in Copenhagen, Denmark Photo/Helgi Ómars

    Fréttablaðið published the interview with Thelma Björk Steimann, where she describes a very tumultuous and violent relationship with Hafþór. The relationship began in 2006 when the two were only teenagers, Thelma only 17 and Hafþór 18.

    Thelma told Fréttablaðið that Hafþór first attacked her at a resort in Benidorm, Spain, where the couple was holidaying with a group of friends and classmates of Thelma. The attack, which took place in their hotel room was caused by Hafþór's jealousy over Thelma speaking to male classmates earlier the same evening.

    Read more: Police responds to a domestic disturbance call at the home of strongman "The Mountain"

    Thelma told Fréttablaðið that after this incidence he apologized and promised the violence would never repeat itself, giving her a pink mobile phone in what she describes as a "sorry-I-beat-you-up" gift. 

    The violence escalated when the couple lived at a college dorm

    The following winter the couple moved to the town of Selfoss in South Iceland where Hafþór had a scholarship and contract. Hafþór and Thelma lived at a dorm at Fjölbrautaskóli Suðurlands junior college where she says the violence escalated.

    "He beat me and threw me around, threw me onto things and broke things. He would frequently grab me by the throat, so that I would faint. Sometimes he held me down, or held me with one hand while he beat me with the other."

    Fréttablaðið spoke to a woman who worked as dorm warden who witnessed the violence while Thelma and Hafþór stayed at the dorm. The warden confirmed Thelma's account, saying that she had to interfere on numerous occasions to stop Hafþór's violence. 

    Emotional abuse and rape  

    Thelma Björk Steinmann
    Thelma Björk Thelma was 17 years old when she met Hafþór. The relationship lasted two years. Photo/Helgi Ómars

    Thelma told Fréttablaðið that Hafþór began to use emotional violence to control her after she discovered she was pregnant. He spent nights drinking and partying with his friends. She also suspected him of infidelity, and one night after she confronted Hafþór he raped her to "prove" that he could not have engaged in sexual intercourse earlier in the evening. The rape took place early morning at the home of his parents. 

    Thelma told Fréttablaðið that she never confronted him, since the morning after Hafþór woke up sick, ending at the hospital.

    After a two year relationship which had been characterized by physical and emotional violence Thelma finally summoned up the courage to leave Hafþór. She now lives in Denmark.

    Wants "the truth about Hafþór to be known"

    She told Fréttablaðið that Hafþór's friends and family always believed his side of events, that she had somehow caused his behavior and brought out the worst in him. She said that she believed stories that Hafþór had become a changed man, but that news that he was facing domestic violence accusations from other women had shocked her. The reason she was coming forward now was that she just wants "the truth about Hafþór to be known".

    "I have thought this through. The reason I want to tell my side of the story is that there is so much wrong and injustice. His fame should not stop people from knowing the truth. It's terrible to learn how he has been treating other girls and women who he has been seeing, since I think they all have a very similar story to tell."

  • Geology

    Powerful earthquake swarm on Kolbeinsey Ridge, north of Iceland: Dozen 3-4 magnitude quakes

    By Staff

    Kolbeinsey islet A small skerry 74 km (46 mi) north of the island Grímsey which in turn sits 40 km (25 mi) off the north coast of Iceland. Yesterday's earthquake swarm took place nearly 120 km (75 mi) to the north of Kolbeinsey. Photo/Sindre Skrede, Wikimedia CC license

    A powerful earthquake swarm north of Iceland which began yesterday is showing signs of slowing down. The swarm, which included 20 quakes confirmed to be magnitude 3-4, two of which were magnitude 4 and 4.1. The total number of quakes detected since the swarm which began on Monday morning now exceeds 60.

    Earthquakes 27.6.17
    Earthquakes in the past 48 h The Mid Atlantic Ridge is highly geologically active Photo/Icelandic Met Office

    Read more: Why the constant earthquakes? Iceland is slowly being torn apart

    The epicenter of the swarm is 230 km (143 miles) north of the coast of North Iceland, on Kolbeinseyjarhryggur ridge, a part of the Mid Atlantic Ridge extending to the north from Iceland into the Arctic. The part of the ridge is named after Kolbeinsey Island, a small volcanic island which has been eroded by the fierce waves of the Arctic Ocean.

    A powerful earthquake swarm took place just north of Kolbeinsey one month ago.

    Read more: Powerful earthquake swarm by Iceland's northernmost point, Kolbeinsey islet

    A seismologist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office told the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service that there seemed to be no signs of volcanic activity in the area where the quakes were detected. 

  • Travel

    Seven fascinating facts about the downtown pond Tjörnin

    By Staff

    Tjörnin lake The downtown pond, which is lined with colorful houses, is also teeming with life. Photo/GVA

    Located in the heart of the city the downtown pond Tjörnin is one of the defining landmarks of downtown Reykjavík. It's bird life and the beautiful colorful homes lining its banks make it a wonderful destination for a lazy afteron stroll.

    1. Its really a pond rather than a lake
    Despite being sometimes referred to as the "downtown lake", Tjörnin hardly qualifies as a lake. While there is no precise scientific definition of what constitutes as a lake or a pond, Icelanders have always viewed Tjörnin as a pond rather than a lake: The name Tjörnin literally translates as "The Pond".

    However, it has also been described as a "shallow lake" in Icelandic books about Reykjavík. And it is very shallow: The average depth of Tjörnin is just 57 cm (1.9 feet). The deepest parts of the northern part of Tjörnin is just 80 cm (2.4 feet).  

    2. But startet its life as a lagoon

    Reykjavík in 1801
    Reykjavík in 1801 Tjörnin at top, the Reykjavík harbour at the bottom. Reykjavík only had two streets, Hafnarstræti street (the row of houses at the bottom) and Aðalstræti street, leading from the harbour to the lake. Historic photo

    However, Tjörnin should probably be seen as a lagoon. Before the settlement of Iceland and the growth of Reykjavík the pond was much larger, extending further to the north.

    It is connected to the ocean via a river, Lækurinn, which currently runs in a sewer beneath Lækjargata street. At high tide the ocean would flow into Tjörnin, which makes it into a lagoon.

    Downtown Reykjavík is built on a narrow sand and gravel barrier which seperates the ocean and the pond. At the time of the settlement of Iceland the pond extended much further to the north, and the ocean much further south, while the river connecting Tjörnin and the ocean was more of a channel than a river, the direction of the current determined by the tides.

    Since then the river has been covered and downtown has expanded with landfills in both directions, chipping away at Tjörnin.  After the river Lækurinn was moved into a sewer Tjörnin also no longer feels the tides. 

    3. It's really a chain of ponds capped with wetlands

    The pond, Tjörnin
    The five ponds 1 Tjörnin proper, 2 Southern pond, 3 Þorfinnstjörn, 4 Vatnsmýrartjörn, 5 Hústjörn, 6 Vatnsmýrin wetland preserve. Photo/City of Reykjavík

    All in all Tjörnin is composed of five separate ponds and the wetland preserve Vatnsmýrin. The main body of water, which covers 8.7 hectares is cut in two by Skothúsvegur street in 1920. The northern part, usually referred to as Tjörnin is considered a distinct pond from Suðurtjörnin, "The Southern Pond", which is surrounded by a public park, Hljómskálagarðurinn. 

    A smaller pond, Þorfinnstjörn, the Pond of Þorfinnur, is located in Hljómskálagarður park. This pond is actually man-made, as the park used to be part of the Vatnsmýri wetlands to the south of Tjörnin.

    The entire park used to be wetlands with shallow ponds, but in the early 20th century the moor was filled up, creating a park and recreational area for the small town. In 1923 a small pond with a nesting island for ducks was added to the park.

    The three ponds and public park are separated from the remaining patch of the wetlands, Vatnsmýrin by one of the main traffic arteries of Reykjavík, Hringbrautin street. Two additional ponds are located in the wetland, Vatnsmýrartjörn and Hústjörn in front of the Nordic House culture center.

    4. Hot water is used to keep a small corner ice free in the winter

    The pond is a popular destination for local families both in winter and summer. In the summer people stroll around the pond and parents take their children to the pond to feed the ducks and geese bread.  

    MR, fótbolti, Tjörnin
    College football During winter students from the two downtown junior colleges, MR and Kvennaskólinn frequently play on the frozen ice. Photo/Pjetur

    During winter the pond freezes over, making it a popular spot for ice skating, the Reykjavík ice skating association having been founded on the pond in 1892. Students from the two downtown junior colleges also use the ice to play football.

    Read more: Heating soccer fields and growing cucumbers: 9 ways in which geothermal energy is used in Iceland

    However, no matter how cold it gets a small part of the lake in its NE-corner remains ice-free. This is because the city uses hot water to maintain the temperature of the water here above freezing, thus ensuring the birds have at least a small piece of open water.

    5. It's teeming with life

    Five duck species nest each year at the pond, in addition to at least two other irregular guests. The five permanent residents are mallards, which are the most populous, gadwall, greater scaup, tufted ducks and teal. Red-breasted mergansers and Eurasian wigeons have been regular guests, although they don't nest every year.

    Read more: Reykjavík's downtown Lake Tjörnin (The Pond) is teeming with life

    In addition to the ducks a significant population of greylag geese and eider nests at the pond. The ducks, geese and eider primarily nest in the small islands, while a large population of Artic tern nest in the Vatnsmýrin wetland preserve.

    Four species of wetland birds also nest in Vatnsmýrinin, the common snipe, ringed plovers, redshanks and Eurasian oystercatchers.

    The pond also has a large population of swans, but these are mostly birds who nest elsewhere, but spend the winter at the pond, taking advantage of the open water and the bread local children bring to feed the birds!  

    6. Ducks and geese were hunted by the lake until 1919

    Reykjavík in 1920
    Reykjavík in 1920 The pond had achieved its modern form in 1920. The river Lækurinn had been moved into a swer beneath Lækjargata street, the pond had been bridged and a part of the wetlands to its south turned into a park. Historic photo

    Throughout the centuries locals have hunted geese and ducks at the pond and in the nearby wetlands. In 1919, however, all hunting was banned. Since then the bird population has increased, with more species nesting at the pond.

    Instead of hunting the birds humans now spend considerable effort to protect them. The city exterminator removes the eggs of seagulls and destroys the nests of seagulls who attempt to settle at the pond, since seagulls pray on smaller birds and their nests.

    Read more: Record number of Arctic Terns by the downtown lake provide protection for ducklings

    Unfortunately this does not stop seagulls who nest in the islands off the coast of Reykjavík from launching raids on the birds of Tjörnin. Fortunately the Arctic tern protects its nesting grounds with such fierceness that it keeps the seagulls away, thus providing the ducks with effective air defenses!

    7. Prior to refrigiration Tjörnin was used to harvest ice 

    Listasafn Íslands, National Gallery
    The National Gallery Originally built as an ice house in 1916. Photo/sara

    Prior to the widespread use of refrigeration the pond was used to harvest ice. In the early 20th century warehouses were built by the pond to house the ice, which was used by fishermen to keep their catch fresh.

    One of these, built in 1916 still stands on the eastern shore of the pond. This building, designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the same architect who later designed Reykjavík's best known landmark Hallgrímskirkja church, currently houses the Icelandic National Art Museum.

  • General

    Captain of sightseeing boat charged in case of Canadian woman killed at Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon

    By Staff

    Jökulsárlón The captain of the amphibious vehicle lacked the necessary qualifications to operate the boat. Photo/Valli

    The captain of an amphibious vehicle at Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon who was involved in a fatal accident in August 2015 has been charged with manslaughter. The captain of the boat, who was 22 years old when the accident took place, lacked the qualification to operate the boat. As he was backing the vehicle onto the shore he hit the Canadian woman. The woman was killed when the boat backed over her.

    Up to six years in prison

    amphibious vehicle Jökulsárlón
    One of the amphibious vehicles at Jökulsárlón The boat involved in the accident weighs 20,000 pounds. Photo/Vísir

    The Police in South Iceland, which investigated the accident, found that the captain had failed to ensure that it was safe to back onto the shore to pick up passengers. The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service reports the man is facing as much as six years in prison.

    The woman was travelling in South Iceland with her family when the tragic accident took place. The family was watching a helicopter land by Jökulsárlón lagoon when one of the sightseeing boats on the lagoon suddenly backed onto the shore. Due to the noise from the helicopter the group didn't hear the boat approaching. The boat did not emit a warning sound to alert pedestrians that it was backing. When the boat hit the family all members fell over. The woman landed beneath the wheel of the boat which did not stop immediately, but drove over the woman.

    Still operating boats on the lagoon without proper certification
    The Police in South Iceland found that the man was only certified to operate boats which are shorter than 12 m (39 ft), not amphibious vehicles of the size of the boat. The boat also lacked necessary safety equipment, like a rear view mirror and a rear camera. The captain also failed to take necessary precaution before backing the boat.

    A statement from the tour company which operates the boat stresses that the company has already taken necessary steps to ensure a similar accident can never take place again. The local news site Vísir reports that the captain involved in the 2015 accident still works for the company, operating its sightseeing boats, despite the fact that he still lacks necessary certification. 

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