According to Thorvaldur Fridriksson, up to the year 1860, monsters were considered a natural thing in daily life of most Icelanders. After all, the country was rocked by the various supernatural phenomena such as elves in rocks or trolls in mountains, and people on land had learned to live harmony with these beings.

However, those making their livelihoods at sea and from the sea, by fishing or transporting goods and people, were not as forgiving.

Understandably, if considering that common beliefs said the evilest of monsters lived in the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean. Monster controlled by evil forces and malignant masters who lived in the eternal ice of the north.

The Sverdhvalur, or swordwhale in Icelandic, is one of those terrible creatures and another one of the illhveli (wicked whales) lurking off the coasts of Iceland. Like all other illhveli, its meat is uneatable, poisoning those who dare try it.

Its most distinctive feature is the sharp bony fin growing out of its back. After reaching maturity, sverdhvalurs are as large as a sperm whale, and like this whale they have a large mouth set with vicious teeth.

The blue whale (Steypireyður in Icelandic) is its mortal enemy. Most of those who have seen a sverdhvalur, described it as brown in color with a sleek skin that shines when touched by light. However, when far from the coast, sightings of this monster contradict this accounts, describing it as grey with a top that at times shines yellow.

The sverdhvalur is a fast swimmer. They are not solitary animal, and adults are often accompanied by a smaller whale, thought to be their offspring, swimming under its pectoral fin and feeding on its scraps.

They use their bladed dorsal fin as a weapon, swimming underneath other whales to cut their bellies open with crisscross slashes. Whales will beach themselves rather than suffer a sverdhvalur’s attack.

This evil whales are not only vicious but also wasteful eaters, choosing to eat only the tongue of their prey (generally cetaceans or barbed whales) and leaving the rest to rot.

They treat boats in the same way as they attack other whales, punching holes through hulls, slicing cleanly through if the boat is small enough, with their dorsal fin. If any sailor falls in the water, they will eat them.

Encounters with larger vessels are more harmful for the sverdhvalur.

Arnarfjörður, the second-largest fjord of the Wesfjords, known as one of the most beautiful of the fjords in Iceland, it's also the fjord with the country's biggest monsters. Old records from this area tell of a trading ship sailing to Copenhagen. As the vessel was leaving the fjord, it stopped in the middle of a large pod of whales after a sudden and strong tug coming from below rattled it. When the ship moored in Copenhagen, the large tusk of a sverdhvalur fin was found sticking out of the hull.


-Jón Baldur Hlíðberg, Sigurður Ægisson. 2008. Meeting with Monsters: An Illustrated Guide to the Beasts of Iceland. JPV.

-Guðrún Bjarkadóttir. 2010. Icelandic mammal name: Their history and origins, Master Thesis. University of Iceland. Department of Icelandic Studies and Culture.

-Thorvaldur Fridriksson. 2009. Monsters in the sea and lakes. In Magnús Olaf Hansson and HlynurThor Magnússon (Eds). Food and culture in the southern Westfjords. Dýrafjörður: The Westfjords publisher.

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