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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Black Lightning

Air Date: Week of

Orca Pod Bonding (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The icy tide swells, and herring follow the turbulent waters into Iceland’s western fjords. On a grey day, writer Mark Seth Lender observed as a pod of Orca follows and feasts on the fish.


CURWOOD: As Susan Casey just told us, Orcas have cultures, cultures that prefer certain kinds of foods over others. And when it comes to the Icelandic Orcas, their favorite cuisine includes herring that move in great shoals in and out of the fjords of Iceland. Mark Seth Lender visited the fjords there as the orcas fattened up.

Orca Hunting Herring
© 2015 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

Shadow at the speed of dark, Orca drives hard along the hull, wake within our spreading wake. The plimsol line upon his flank, muscular blade of dorsal fin, its ragged trailing edge, the bright white saddle before the eye. Elements, as unique as portraiture. He rolls to reveal that close-lipped Orca smile as he streaks by, a strike of black lightning; his glowing afterimage precedes the recognition of the eye.

Whiteout at Kolgrafafjordur (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Veering away he vanishes into the turbulent water of Grundarfjordur.

Wind ploughs the sea.

The deck rolls.

The bow digs into the furrow on every plundering wave…


Gulls share in the Feast of Herring, Kolgrafafjordur (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

To the East, beyond the promontory, Orca are hunting again. Beneath the steep white-coated mountains, between the deep walls at the head of the Kolgrafafjörður. Back, and forth, back and forth, each whale a hand-held scythe cutting and shearing, sounding and rising among the shoals of herring. A delicate threshing of the living grain, they take the fishes one by one.

The tide turns.

The herring run with the tide.

The harvest is ended.

At the narrowing mouth of the fjord a pod of Orca rounds and gathers. Bellies full, eyes crinkled like a joyous noise, their bodies bound together tight as a sailor’s knot, bound as if of single mind.

Unraveling, they drive north for open ocean…

Fingers of snow trace runes upon the fjord, erased as soon as they are born by the whiteout weather tumbling off the mountains.

Everyone that can, has gone. Behind the eyes the after-image fades and only Memory remains, a stiff brush scrubbed against the skin.

A Female approaches. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)



Laki Tours, Grundarfjordu, Iceland

Hotel Framnes and the Hotel Framnes Restaurant for accommodation

Iceland Naturally for their guidance and generous support


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