28.10.2011 - 11:34

A great scientist and good friend is gone

Páll Hersteinsson in Hornstrandir, July 1998. Photo: NAVE/ERU
Páll Hersteinsson in Hornstrandir, July 1998. Photo: NAVE/ERU
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Prof. Pall Hersteinsson, the inventor and guardian of The Arctic Fox Centre, passed away, after short but severe illness, at The University Hospital of Iceland on October 13th.

Pall was a respected and efficient scientist, both in Iceland and abroad. His studies on the arctic fox since the early 80´s have resulted in valuable information on the biology and population dynamics of the species in Iceland and worldwide. Pall´s work was based on long-term hunting statistics and dissections on carcasses from foxhunters in the past 32 years. This collaboration between hunters and a scientist has shown to be extremely important and practical.

In the summer of 1998 a year-long collaboration was established between the Westfjords Natural History institute and Pall Hersteinsson, on behalf of The University of Iceland. The first project was a thorough study on arctic fox behaviour in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, where the arctic fox had been protected by law in 1995. The institutes hired two biology students, Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir and Hólmfríður Sigþórsdóttir. Their main job was to monitor two arctic fox dens and record all behavioural activity seen. The pups were "trap trained" so that they would willingly enter traps when they were large enough to carry transmitters for dispersal studies. The next summer, another expedition was conducted to Hornstrandir, this time on the old sailboat Neisti with Captain Guðmundur Jakobsson. That summer was used for visiting all known den sites within Hornstrandir Nature Reserve to see if they were occupied. Jón Oddsson, a former foxhunter of Hornstrandir, was on the boat and explained the locations of the dens, remembering all details and never failed, he was more than 80 years old. After these two summers, several other projects were conducted and friendship was formed between the people involved. Ester Rut kept on working on arctic fox projects in collaboration with both institutes and it was always Pall who was the scientific consultant of the projects. During the summers 2002-2007 an international study was conducted on the arctic foxes in Hornstrandir. This project was a collaboration between Israel (Dr. Eli Geffen), Sweden (Dr. Anders Angerbjorn), Norway (Dr. Eva Fuglei) and Iceland (Dr. Pall Hersteinsson). The major aims of the studies were to estimate the cost of reproduction and the proportionaltime each parent spent rearing pups and bringing food.


In April 2005, Pall was asked to give a presentation at a tourism conference in Isafjordur. The aim was to find new activities and specialities that could enhance increasing tourism in the region. Pall couldn't come and asked Ester Rut, his student, to go instead. At this conference, the idea of The Arctic Fox Centre was first mentioned in public and the people in Westfjords was encouraged to make the arctic fox a characteristic animal of the region, let it become a valuable resource in tourism and build up a research and exhibition centre, focusing on the arctic fox, the only native terrestrial mammal in Iceland.

In short, this has now been done with the help and good will of the locals in Súðavík who understand the importance of creating something new and special to gain attention and get more visitors to stop and stay in the area. From the beginning, Pall helped creating the project, gave all his data and some of his old research material and from the beginning served as theoretical consultant of the centre. His contribution was vital for the project and gave it a special value. Former studies on the arctic fox status in the Nature Reserve have continued and others began. Pall leaves a gap in the group that will not be filled up again. His insight and knowledge was amazing and it will be a challenge for the rest of us to continue his important work for over 30 years.


We have lost an outstanding partner, colleague and friend. We send Pall´s wife and family our deepest condolences in these difficult times.


On behalf of The Arctic Fox Centre and the Westfjords Natural History institute, shareholders, staff and board members,

Ester Rut Unnsteinsdóttir and Þorleifur Eiríksson