Mink on the Brink

by wjw on July 30, 2019

So it was our last night in Iceland, and we were having a last Icelandic supper in the excellent Harbor Restaurant, right on the waterfront and a short (rainy) walk from our hotel.  Last chance for arctic char!  Last chance for reindeer!  So many decisions. . .

The place was so slammed that it took a long time to get our meals, and when they arrived we got the mains before the starters.  So we had a lot of time to gaze out the window, and at one point I stared through the glass and said, “Hey, is that a weasel?”


Well it was, sort of.  It was in fact a mink.  (I had thought minks were bigger, but they’re not.)

Back in the 1970s, the Icelandic government tried to improve the lot of poor farmers by converting them into fur farmers.  They mostly raised arctic fox, which aren’t native to Iceland but managed to cross over from Greenland all on their own.  They also raised mink, which were imported for the purpose.  Naturally some escaped, and now they’re overrunning the island.  Various attempts are being made to control or eliminate the population, which is of course impossible.

As for the fur farms, they all failed in the 1980s when PETA propaganda turned people against wearing fur.  Now the farmers are worse off than before, and the mink are eating their chickens.

So the mink went scurrying along the waterfront and out of sight, but subsequently reappeared carrying a mink only a little smaller than she.  Mom was moving her nest!

Her timing could have been better, because the marina was full of people.  Excursion and whale-watching boats were discharging their human cargo, and it was a Friday night with people wandering to restaurants and bars, and whole crowds of people were following this mink around.  Eventually she panicked and dived off the quay, still carrying her young.

Some time later she reappeared, this time with an even larger pup, nearly Mom’s size.


Again whole crowds of people were following her around, and at one point she panicked again, dropped her pup, and ran off.  The pup started to blunder around in a fairly incompetent way, and then Mom came back, grabbed the youngster, and again made off with it, again diving off the quay.  I looked for her later, but didn’t find her.

I understand why the authorities want to eradicate this animal, but that night my sympathies were entirely with the mink.

Etaoin Shrdlu July 31, 2019 at 3:35 am

I have to mention one of the greatest books of all time: Douglas Adams’ “Last Chance to See.” According to Google Books, this is on page 198 of whichever one of the various editions Google scanned in:

“. . . island ecologies are fundamentally different from mainland ones. They even have a different vocabulary. When you spend much time on islands with naturalists, you will tend to hear two words in particular an awful lot: endemic and exotic. Three, if you count disaster.

“An endemic species of plant or animal is one that is native to an island or region and is found nowhere else at all. An exotic species is one that has been introduced from abroad, and a disaster is usually what results when this occurs.”

It’s a heartwarming, heartbreaking book, far better than any of that sci-fi that he churned out.

Much as I, too, think mink* are adorable, the ones on Iceland regrettably need to be turned into coats. Those smoked puffins you declined because their colonies are declining are being devoured in large part by those mink: one single mink plus one puffin colony equals a hell of a lot of dead rotting uneaten birds that the single mink killed for the sheer joy of killing plus an entire destroyed colony of eggs and nests. Perhaps they should market mink coats as a conservation effort to prevent the extinctions of various endemic species.

*or minks, if you prefer. To save on typing, I use the shorter form of the plural — a tribute, as it were, to the god Brevity, whom all who work with the written word should worship. (– S. Brust)

wjw August 1, 2019 at 1:08 am

Iceland is well and truly fucked by invasive species. The arctic fox found themselves on an island without rodents or other prey animals, and learned to eat puffins and berries.

There are rodents now, of course, mice and rats and mink. There are also rabbits, who eat everything the mink don’t. Reindeer were imported in the 18th century, but most of them died and the survivors are in a fairly small area.

Can we spread diseases that only infect rabbits and mink? Has that ever worked on anything other than screwflies?

Etaoin Shrdlu August 1, 2019 at 2:50 am

Australia has had some success spreading myxomatosis in their rabbit population. Since there are few diseases that kill 100% of a target population, it just means that they knock off some percentage, and then the breeding survivors are resistant, so they have to find and use a different strain to try again next time.

Whether Iceland could use it on their rabbits would probably depend on whether they have anything native that would be harmed. Well, and on whether the people would sabotage the program — looks like some of them have been blocking the mink eradication efforts because feels.

But give it another couple of decades and maybe we’ll be able to custom-tailor lethal viruses. Hey, won’t that be fun?!!?!

grs1961 August 2, 2019 at 2:02 am

Here in Oz we’ve switched from Myxo to a Calicivirus, which accidentally (maybe oops-on-purpose) got released early – farmers in Oz hate, hate, HATE those fscking rodents, so does anyone who thinks about what all the holes the mongrels dig do to the landscape. Sadly there are misguided fools who keep them as pets.

And minks… Well, “Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons” is what comes to mind.

Etaoin Shrdlu August 2, 2019 at 6:40 am

Show me on the doll where the bunny nibbled your bum! :-p

As a sometime rabbit ownee and adopted grandbunny, they’re the sweetest, most adorable pets that have ever existed, and every sane decent person should have one around. Oh, and me too. But I’ll accept that they shouldn’t be allowed to rampage through the Australian wilderness, devouring snakes, spiders, kangaroos, dingoes, diggers, box jellyfish, and bilbies. Honestly, with all the deadly stuff you have crawling around, you’d think they would have lasted ten minutes tops, but I guess they outwitted you lot.

That said, who the hell names an animal “the wombat”?!?!! Were you all exceptionally drunk at the time?!?!!!

Also, good choice of story. 🙂

Oh, and they’re not rodents. They’re lagomorphs. With nasty big pointy teeth.

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