The Taumafiskur, which translates as “bridle fish,” is one of the illhveli—wicked whales—of Icelandic Folklore. While many other illhvelli names appear in the Konungs skuggsjá (Old Norse for "King's mirror"), a Norwegian educational text published around 1250, the Taumasfiskur makes its first appearance in a later record by Jón Guðmundsson, who in the 17th Century published a list of marine species that included whale species reported as legendary.

    The Taumafiskur, whose name derives from the white, at times pink or light gray markings extending from its eyes to its mouth and outwards, contrasting sharply against its coal-black color, giving the appearance of a bridle, is mentioned within that group.

    According to oral tradition and a few mentions in medieval Scandinavian records, the Taumafiskur is the most dangerous and feared of all the wicked whales. Like all the other illhveli its flesh is inedible, resulting in poisoning. However, what makes this such a dangerous creature is that speaking its name while at sea will attract its unwelcome attention.

    Taumafiskurs are cruel, destructive, and spiteful. Even worse, they have an excellent memory and will hold grudges for as long as they live, tracking down anyone who has escaped them. They flip boats over, tear them up with their teeth, pummel them with their tails, and if there is more than one of them, they get under them and push, folding small boats in half.

    One minister from Fáskrúðsfjörður (small town in east Iceland) survived a taumafiskur’s attack by clinging to the wreckage of his boat. But afterwards, he was unable to go to sea without attracting the whale, who follow after him, even along the coast if he was on land, always seeking to kill him.

    Another record describes how the crew of a Danish fishing boat sighted a taumafiskur around the Snæfellsnes glacier (West Icelandic coast). When the whale attacked the boat, the crew survived thanks to the quick thinking and the dark arts skills of their captain. The man in question dove overboard with a small bag in hand after muttering some strange incantations, to return to the surface not long after, assuring his crew that the taumafiskur would not bother them anymore.

    Exactly what the captain used to repel the taumafiskur is unknown. However, several substances are known to deterred taumafiskurs (and most likely other illhveli):

    -Angelica, particularly the chewed flowers.

    -Rotting bait, the oilier the bait better.

    -The dirty water that collects inside the bilges of boat.

    -Cod-liver oil.

    -Juniper, particularly cones and seed.

    -Cow or sheep manure.

    -Pig urine.

    -Sulfur, as that in light-colored volcanic ash.

    -Yarrow, better if it's in bloom, and even better if the flowers are yellow.

    Setting fire to these substances, or pouring them over live embers in a bucket to be thrown overboard, was said to make them more potent.

    As a last resort, the taumafiskurs could also be distracted by loud noises, like gun shots or throwing barrels into the water. When the sun is low in the horizon, sailing into its reflection if the waters are calm, could overwhelm the whale's sense, forcing it to give up the chase.


    -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.

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