Wildlife in Iceland is rich in birds and marine mammals but the only land mammal living in Iceland before we humans came was the Arctic fox. It is believed that the Arctic fox travelled across the frozen sea in the very distant past and found a home on this island.
Iceland is surrounded by the cool rich North Atlantic Ocean. A warm oceanic current, the Gulf Stream, sends a steady supply of warm water up past Iceland making it warmer than would otherwise be expected from a land at this latitude. The coastal waters of Iceland play a key role in making Iceland so rich in birds and marine mammals.
Although Iceland is Europe´s second largest island, it has only 75 breeding bird species. However, most breeding species are well represented and can easily seen around the island. For example, the most numerous bird in Iceland is the Atlantic Puffin, there being some four million pairs, and in a colony just outside Reykjavik there are about 30,000 pairs. In addition, over 370 bird species have been recorded in Iceland, an amazing total considering the small number of breeding species. The sheer abundance and accessibility of birdlife in Iceland is astonishing.
Given that almost 11% of Iceland is covered with glaciers, and over 60% is either lava fields or deserts, terrestrial mammals in Iceland are not many. The only original terrestrial mammal in Iceland is the Arctic fox. All the other mammals here today have been brought by man, knowingly or inadvertently. Among these are two species of mice, reindeer and the American mink, all of which can now be considered a part of the Icelandic environment.
Marine mammals are numerous in Icelandic coastal waters and currently 23 species of cetaceans are being spotted. The cool, clear North Atlantic Ocean encircling Iceland is rich with food for whales of various sizes and species. Most common are minke whales and white-beaked dolphins, but killer whales are also frequently seen and if you are lucky, you can see the huge humpback whales, waving their flukes and sometimes leaping, a sight that will leave you breathless. Sperm whales are rarely spotted and pilot whales only at times. Iceland´s vast and uninhabited coast still offers many inaccessible areas which provide sanctuary for the two species of seals that give birth to their pups in Iceland. The harbour seal is more common than the grey seal, with numbers in the tens of thousands. All the other seal species frequenting the Arctic can be found along the shore from time to time, even though visits from some are considered a rarity.