March 31, 2019

The Taumafiskur, which translates as “bridle fish,” is one of the illhveli --evil whales-- of Iceland. This, however, is the most dangerous and feared of them all, and like all the others its flesh is inedible, but it comes with the added evil-bonus that speaking its name at sea will attract its unwelcome attention.


Its name derives from the white, at times pink, stripes extending from its eyes to its mouth and outwards that, contrasting sharply against its coal-black color, give the appearance of a bridle.


In the East Fjords, this whale is better known as “big short-horn," distinguishing it from the “little short-horn” or minke whale which has a similar shape, albeit of smaller size and with shorter-fins, but doesn't show the long, light colored strips on its skin.


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 even get under them crosswise and fold them in half.


One minister from Fáskrúðsfjörður (small twon 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 the whale zeroing in on time and time again, seeking to kill him once and for all.


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, they 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. And sure enough, it was not seen again that day.


Exactly what the captain used to repel the taumafiskur is unknown. The substances known to be abhorrent to taumafiskurs (and most likely other illhveli) include chewed angelica, rotting baitfish, bilge-water, cod-liver oil, live fire in a bucket, juniper, cow or sheep manure, sulfur, chopped fox testicles, and yarrow. Setting fire to these substances before throwing them overboard was believed to make them more potent. Taumafiskurs can also be distracted by loud noises and barrels thrown into the water, and sailing into the sun can dazzle them into giving up the chase.



-Davidsson, O. 1900. The Folk-lore of Icelandic Fishes. The Scottish Review, October, pp. 312-332.

-Hlidberg, J. B. and Aegisson, S.; McQueen, F. J. M. and Kjartansson, R., trans. 2011. Meeting with Monsters. JPV utgafa, Reykjavik.

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