Jan Mayen is a 55 kilometres long volcanic island set in the North Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Iceland and Spitsbergen. The still active volcano, Beerenberg, is 2300m high and dominates the island.
Jan Jacobsz May
The island is named for Jan Jacobsz May, a Dutch whaler who landed here in 1614 (though the island had been seen before) and was a major whaling centre for both Dutch and English whalers. In the years which followed his visit, several settlements being established. These settlements were usually only manned in the summer. Seven Dutchmen who tried to over winter in 1633-34 all died because of scurvy. When whaling ceased, the difficulties of access and the poor climate limited human activities on the island.
At the end of the 19th century Jan Mayen was visited by Austrian research expedition, then in the early 20th century Norwegian trappers settled, almost wiping out the Arctic fox population. When its fur trappers were active Norway established a weather station on the island, finally claiming sovereignty in 1929. During the Second World War the island was of great symbolic importance as the last piece of ‘free Norway’.
First impression of Jan Mayen
The first impression the visitor gets of the island is one of a rough, inhospitable landscape, studded with snowfields, the sides of Mt Beerenberg swept by glaciers separated by steep, rocky faces. The weather is unpredictable: it is said the weather is foul for 362 days of the year. There may be heavy rain, wind and fog but then, soon after, the sun may break through and the air becomes clear. In June, when our ships visit Jan Mayen, the average temperature is around 2º to 3ºC (36º to 37ºF). During the winter Jan Mayen is often surrounded by pack-ice, the slopes of Beerenberg perpetually snow-covered.
The vegetation is scarce, limited to just a few mosses, grasses and a scattering of flowering plants. Yet for all its ruggedness and inhospitable climate there is a wild beauty to the island. On the coast pebble beaches alternate with dazzling high rock faces. On the beaches there are the old bleached bones of whales and the remains of the whaling stations, while the rock faces are home to breeding colonies Glaucous Gull, Northern Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Little Auks, Black Guillemots and Brünnich’s Guillemots and Puffins. Common Eiders, Arctic Terns, Ringed Plovers and other waders breed on Jan Mayen, choosing nest sites on flat land behind the beaches.
A thousand shades of green
Beneath the still-active flanks of volcano Mt Beerenburg, Minke, Fin and Blue Whales can be seen. But most remarkable of all is the black sand, weathered from volcanic basalt, and the colours. Conquered by nature, Jan Mayen is now a thousand shades of green, mosses and other plants having colonised the once bare volcanic rock.