Whale Watching in Iceland
Iceland has a lot of folk tales about whales, suggesting the importance these sea giants have always had in Iceland’s history and culture, even before Iceland became such a popular whale watching destination.
The first very famous whale of Iceland, that helped the growth of whale watching as one of the most popular activities in Iceland, was Keiko, the orca / killer whale who played Willy in the famous Hollywood movie Free Willy. Keiko was captured in Iceland and sold to aquariums before he became a movie star. After a few years, thanks to the Free-Willy Foundation, Keiko was flown back to Iceland from the US and here he lived, in a bay of the Vestmannaeyjar islands, while he was being trained to learn to live in the wild.
After a few years, Keiko was released with a group of wild orca whales but after only one month he was found alone in Norway seeking human contact. A few months later Keiko sadly died alone in Norway, his reintegration into the wild had failed, but Keiko had brought so much attention to Iceland and whale watching has grown very rapidly after his death.
Whale watching is now a very popular activity in Iceland, tours leave from several harbors all over Iceland and there are many types of whales that can be spotted around Iceland, depending on the location and the season.
The most common ones are the Minke Whales, which can be seen from almost all the whale watching ports in Iceland, including Reykjavik.
The White-beaked Dolphins are very easy to spot around Iceland, since they stay close to the shore all year round, often playing on the sea surface.
Harbor Porpoises can also be seen throughout the year around Iceland but they are relatively small and shy and they only appear for short moments.
Humpback Whales, famous for their quite acrobatic behavior, can be spotted during the summer, especially on tours from the Northern towns of Akureyri and Húsavík.
Orcas or Killer Whales can be spotted around Iceland during the summer months and in the winters around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but since they travel a lot and do not stay for long in the same place, it is not always easy to meet them.
In addition to the species I just mentioned, there are a lot more that can be spotted in Iceland but it is not very common and you will need a bit more luck. On a whale watching tour in Iceland you might be able to meet the huge Blue and Fin Whales, Sai Whales, Pilot Whales, Toothed Whales, Beaked Whales and probably many more I, not being a whale expert, don’t even know the names of.
I know I have mentioned that some of the species can be seen mostly in the summer but if you are visiting Iceland in the winter, whale watching is still a good activity to do. It is less busy and, although you will have less chances to see some of the species and the weather might sometimes cause the tours to be cancelled, you will still be able to spot some whales or dolphins and you will also have the chance to sail between snowy mountains, with a view that will take your breath away.
For general information, I just want to add that if whale watching tours have become so popular in Iceland, on the other hands the whaling industry becomes less and less popular every year and, although whales are still hunted in Iceland, just a small fraction of the meat is actually consumed by Icelanders. Most of the whale meat is sold to Japan or served to tourists.
On a personal note, I would like to share my opinion that maybe we should try our luck, join a boat tour to spot these beautiful animals and enjoy them in their natural habitat, swimming in the ocean and not in a plate on our table. But whether you want to taste them or not, going whale watching, sailing in the open sea close to wild whales and dolphins is a great experience you should try while in Iceland.
Text : Elisa Maccagnoni
Photos : islandialove, keiko photos