The first seals to visit Surtsey
came frequently soon after its formation. Not many reports
exists from the first few years, but when divers began studying
the sub-zone around Surtsey,
they also could now observe them underwater. So in late summer 1972,
while diving to collect subtidal algae etc, a common seal, phoca
vitulina L, was observed.
Common Seal, phoca vitulina (not
During the period 1980-1980 several
seals where counted from aircraft.
1980 on August 11th a number of 20 common seals phoca
and again in 1986 about 30 adults were registered.
seal, here with a puppy.(not from Surtsey)
Recognition: Grey and brown fur, sometimes with pattern of blotches;
no ears visible; long muzzle; nostrils parallel.
Head/body length: average for males 207cm; for females 180cm; flippers
Weight: males 233kg; females 155kg.
Gill Sinclair, The Mammal Society (not
valid as per Sept. 2010)
Grey seals, halichoreus grypus,
were observed breeding in 1982, and in 1986
as many as 34 puppies were seen on land as 16 adults in the sea
during one overflight.
Over the years the number has increase, and in an observation on
1989 35 pups where basking on land, but not all totally white. 3
on December 13th, 3 white pups and about 70 grown ups were basking
So both common seals and grey seals have already several years ago
on Surtsey, as well as using it as a basking site. They have probably
used the sandy
northernspit, as a basking site much earlier than they started to
breed on it. Fishermen
from the isles of Vestmannaeyjar, have noticed seals there regularly,
often in great
numbers, during the winter-time for many years.(1989)
seal pups on the northern sandy spit of the island of Surtsay.
The picture is taken by Erlingur Hauksson from an aircraft on October
Surtsey is in many respecs a good breeding
place for seals. The animals there are hardly
ever disturbed. Visitors to the island are very few and come to
the island mostly in the summertime. The sandy norther spti is low
and beaching is easy for the animals, even in
Close to the island are good fishing grounds for seals. In the summer
there is an
abundance of saithe, cod and herring just off the cliffs. All year
around flatfishes and sea
scorpions can be found there to eat.
If the seals in Surtsey continue to get the same protection in years
to come, as they have
had to daye (and the sea does not wipe away all of the northern
tip), then a strong
breeding stock of grey seals will probably evolve as well as also
a sizable herd of
(This information on the seals on Surtsey are
Based upon a report by Erlingur Hauksson,
Iceland Fisheries Laboratories, Reykjavik, in Surtsey Research Progress
Report X, 1992.)
the Westman Islands, Killer Whales are often seen near Surtsey.
Photo: © Blair P. Mott
Photo courtesy of Ocean Futures
In the year 1964, a year after the eruption started, only bacteria
and diatoms were detected
on the littoral rocks. The number of species increased rapidly until
about 1970, and then
levelled off and has increased slowly since with the number of species
40 to 50 species recorded on each sampling occasion the last ten
years. Alltogether up
to the year 1997 the number of different species totalled 76.
Photo by © Hans Christian Andersen
Most of the species that have been recorded on Surtsey are not permanent
the island, but are opportunists that have been found sporadically
over the years.
Some of these species have only been found once after their discovery
laminaria digitata an
extremely common species in the other islands of the
One of the species, hincksia recurvata,
has not been found elsewhere in Iceland.
(And I haven't found it anywhere on the web either)
Some faithful colonisers that were first found shortly after the
eruption have been recorded
on every occasion since, such as .e.g. alaria
esculenta that has been common in the sublittoral
zone ever since it was first found in 1966.
Among the faithful colonisers are both annual species that possibly
invade the island
every year from a nearby stand, as propbably most of the littoral
or survive through the winter in a recuced form. Other colonisers
are perennial such
as laminaria hyperborea that has been found on every occasion
and plants of up to 9 years have been collected on Surtsey.
hyperborea, a typical view of a Laminaria-stand on
top of a boulder at the depth of 10 m
at the east coast of Surtsey, in July 1997. The highest plants measure
about 1.5 m in stipe length.
© Karl Gunnarsson, courtesy
of The Surtsey Research Society
Laminaria hyperboerea had its highest
cover at 10 and 20 m where it formed dense stands
on the top of the highest stones, as shown on the picture above.
Brown filaments that
consisted of a mixture of filamentous diatoms, hincksia
spp. and/or ectocarpus spp. were
found at all depths in all years and generally had high cover.
In the sublittoral zone the most conspicuous herbivores observed
were echinus esculentus, strongylocentrodus droebachiensis,
lacuna vincta and padina pellucida.
Elsewhere along the basaltic cliffs the algal growth, although less
similar main features as on the east coast. See the picture below:
underwater photograph showing an area of 60 x 40 cm of the bottom
at 15 m at the west coast
of Surtsey in July 1997. Species appearing in the photo are the
seaweed species delesseria sanguinea, phycodrys rubens, lomentaria
orcadensis and juvenile alaria esculenta. Prominent animal
species are sea star, asterias rubens, sponge, grantia
compressa, mussel, mytilus edulis and hydroid, tubularia
© Photo Karl Gunnarsson, courtesy
of The Surtsey Research Society
In the year 1997 or just before,
another new record, not expected in Surtsey, was omphalophyllum
ulvaceum. It was found in the sublittoral zone at the depth
This species has not been recorded in sourthern Iceland before but
its a common species
in northern Iceland. It has also been found in Greenland and elsewhere
in the Arctic.
This species was recently also found on the French side of the English
assemblage of alcyonium digitatum at a depth of 30 meters off the
Hæna. (not Surtsey) A deep water community situated between
20 and 30 m depth off Surtsey
is dominated by faunal assemblage of filter feeders, where the soft
coral alcyonium digitatum
and hydroids are dominant.
©courtesy of The Surtsey Research Society
The highest cover of sublittoral species was in the depth interval
from 5 to 15 m after
which the cover decreases rapidly with depth and is down to 1.6%
at 30 m.
The main factor influencing the depth distribution of the algae
is most likely light, which
is very reduced at 30 m depth. Increasing cover of animals coincides
with the decrease
in algal cover. Below 25 m the algae have almost disapperaed and
digitatum at Surtsey in 1974
© Photo: Halldòr Dagsson. Courtesy
of The Surtsey Research Society
purses from Surtsey covered with seed.
Seeds came to Surtsey in many ways. Some by the birds, and some
on the mermaid purses, eggs of the skate-fish,
(raja batis). These eggs are found
inside small packets that are drifting around in the sea. During
the month of May 1969
several of those capsulated eggs drifted ashore on Surtsey.
|Carex, from the Latin,
"sedge, reed grass, rush"
lasiocarpa, from the Greek, lasios (lasios), "shaggy, woolly,
hairy", and karpos (karpos), "fruit"; hence,
Common Name, from the distinctive seedhead, the "woolly
Other common names include: Woollyfruit Sedge, Slender Sedge,
Trådstorr (Nor), Trådstarr (Swe), Tråd-Star
(Dan), Jouhisara (Fin), Faden-Segge (Ger), Seisg Choilleanta
(Gaelic), Ostrica Plstnatoplodá (Slovak)
The chitinous material of the purses was somewhat shedded into
thin bristles which the seeds stuck to. Some of the seed were hairy
which even increased the adhesion effect.
Except for one infertile fruit of carex (see yellow
frame above), the seed found attached to the
mermaid purses were all of grass species, which are common in Iceland.
A total of 131 seeds belonging to about 10 different species were
Here you can find out more about:
Back to Surtsey-menu
|| Bird migration
|| Fossils on Surtsey
|| How life developed
|| The eruption
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