Whales are such beautiful creatures. No matter what kind you think of, you know for sure that they are huge and super strong. Still, their character is very friendly and most of them are very curious about what is going on around them. Iceland is an incredible destination to go whale watching!
Because of their curiosity, some whales like to approach boats and you can often watch whales close. Iceland is a home town for many whales and a perfect destination to go whale watching!
Which type of whales can I see in Iceland?
You can see over 20 different types of whales in Iceland. The country is situated between the cold Arctic sea and the warmer North Atlantic ocean. The mixture of these two currents and the relatively shallow waters are two things whales like because this provides them good feeding opportunities.
There are 7 species of whales that you can see frequently around Iceland and these species are the ones you will likely spot during a trip or holiday to Iceland. Besides whales, you can see a lot of other animals out there on the ocean, like white-beaked dolphins, seals, and basking sharks. Don’t forget the sea birds, like puffins, gannets, gulls, and arctic terns.
the Minke whale is by far the most commonly sighted whale and can be seen all around Iceland. They are the second smallest species of whales, yet they grow up to 10 meters long and weigh around 8 tonnes!
Minke whales are curious and love to approach boats to see what is going on. For this reason, you can often spot Minke whales from up-close.
Humpback whales are a lot bigger than the Minke whales and can grow up to 17 meters long. A fully grown Humpback whales weight is around 30 tonnes, which is 7 to 9 times more than a fully grown elephant! Can you imagine?
Humpback whales are famous for their shows. They love to jump out of the water, slap with their fins to splash up water, and they make pirouettes just for fun. Even like the Minke whales they are curious creatures and love to come close to boats.
Orcas, or the so-called killer whales, are actually not whales, but the biggest of the dolphin species. This type is very well known from the movie Free Willy. They grow up to 8 meters long and weigh around 8 tonnes.
Orcas live together in large groups and often stay together all their lives. There is a high chance that if you see one, there will be plenty more!
Blue whales & Fin whales
These two whales are the biggest species of the whale-family. The blue whale is the biggest species that has ever lived, so yes, even bigger than the largest dinosaur! These two whale species grow up to 27 meters long and weigh between 80 and 120 tonnes.
It will be a bit harder to spot these whales, as they are a bit shyer. You can spot a fin whale from quite a distance, as they are famous for their immense blow that spouts 9 meters into the air!
The name of the sperm whale is derived from an organ in its head, which gives it the characterizing shape. This organ is filled with a white substance, called spermaceti. Researchers don’t know the function of this organ but think it has to do something with diving. Sperm whales can dive very deep: up-to 3 kilometers, and stay there for 60 to 90 minutes before coming back to the surface.
This animal can grow up to 20 meters and weighs around 50 tonnes. They might be hard to spot as they love hanging around in deeper waters. Still, it is one of the most spotted whales in Iceland.
This is the smallest species of whales, they only grow up to two meters and weigh around 70 kilograms. They often travel alone or in very small groups.
You can recognize them on the sound they make when they breathe. They make a sharp puffing sound when they blow out water. For that reason, some people also call them puffin pigs. Your biggest chance to spot them is when the circumstances are calm.
What is the best place for whale watching?
You can see the Harbour Porpoises and Humpback whales anywhere around Iceland. The Blue whales are also quite common to see all around Iceland, but where they hang out depends on the season. The other species can only be seen in specific parts.
One thing is for sure: Húsavík is the whale watching capital of Iceland! This town is situated in a bay where the water is quite shallow and the surrounding coastline is very rich with whale foods. Húsavík is also close to the arctic circle, but it gets some warmer streams from the Atlantic waters, which makes the water temperature more pleasant for the whales.
Nevertheless, you can see whales in other places around Iceland as well!
In North Iceland whale watching tours mainly depart from Húsavík. You might also be able to get a tour from Akureyri, Dalvik, and only since 2017. There also depart whale watching tours from the West Fjords.
North Iceland is going to be the best chance you have of actually seeing a whale. In the past years, whales have been spotted in 98% of all whale watching tours.
The whale species Minke whale, Humpback whale, Blue whale, Fin whale, and Harbour Porpoise can be spotted in this part of Iceland.
In West Iceland, there aren’t many tours for whale watching, but whales can be seen from the coastline on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. One of the best places to go to is Ólafsvík.
In this part, whales like the Minke whale, Blue whale, Sperm whale, and Harbour Porpoise can be spotted.
In South Iceland tours mainly depart from Reykjavik. These tours are quite popular among people that only spend a weekend in Iceland.
In this part of Iceland, you can spot almost all of the above-mentioned whales. Just the sperm whale isn’t very likely to show up here.
What is the best time of the year to spot whales?
Some whales are around all year, like the Harbour Porpoise and the Humpback whales. Other whale species can only be seen during a specific period throughout the year.
The whale watching season in North Iceland runs from March until September. May until August will be the busiest months with whales that are hanging around.
In West Iceland, the season runs from March until October. During the months of May until August all whale species that live in this part are around.
In the South whales can be seen all year round, it just really depends on the season which whales are likely to see.
- Winter (Jan-Mar): Humpback whale
- Spring (Apr-Jun): The Humpback whales are slowly moving to the North and the Minke whales will be seen more often
- Summer (Jul-Sep): The Minke whales are still around and the orcas find their way to Iceland during these months. By the end of the summer, the orcas will leave and the Blue whales arrive.
- Autumn (Oct-Nov): The Minke whales will be leaving soon, while the Blue whales and Fin whales find their way here.
- December: Not many whales of any species will be around.
What is the best time of the day to see whales?
You can see whales all day long. They come to the surface to breathe and this is not more or less during a specific time of the day.
When you book a tour, it might be smartest to book the afternoon tour. Whales that are spotted in the morning will be followed all day long. Your tour guide knows where to go, so your chance is biggest that a whale has already been spotted that day and that you can see it too!
7 tips for when you go whale watching in Iceland with a tour
Are you joining a whale watching tour in Iceland? That is awesome! It is the best opportunity to spot a whale. To make the best out of your trip, here are some tips:
1. It can be cold!
The weather in Iceland is turbulent and unpredictable. A day that starts with sunshine can end with a snowstorm. Even summer temperatures can drop quickly and out there on the open sea the wind will be very cold.
Some tours provide suits that are water and windproof, but if not, make sure you have some warm and waterproof clothes with you.
2. Bring a good camera
Some whales are very shy and don’t like to approach the boat. If you want to take some good photographs, make sure you have a zoom lens. Even if a whale comes close, with a zoom lens you can take incredible close-ups!
Taking pictures of whales is very tempting just because you want to make sure you have that perfect shot. Nevertheless, it is a unique experience to see a whale in real-life from so close. So don’t forget to just watch and take it all in!
4. Book your tour on time
Especially during the summer months, tours are likely to sell out. So, book your tour on time to make sure you have an opportunity to spot these amazing creatures.
5. Book your tour carefully
Whales are wild animals and spotting whales can never be guaranteed. Though, some tours might offer a guarantee in the form of a spot on another tour when you don’t see them. Just check what the tour says about guarantees, to make sure you have the biggest chance of actually seeing them.
6. Your place on the boat
Did you book a tour with a bit bigger boat that has multiple levels? Get a spot at the top. This gives you a better view over the horizon and if you see a whale up-close you can shoot beautiful pictures from the top.
Like I said before, the Icelandic weather is unpredictable. The wind can rise in just a couple of minutes’ time. So, when you start your tour with a calm and peaceful ocean, don’t be surprised to come back from a wild and rough sea! Be prepared for the worst and prepare yourself from seasickness.
We love to hear from you
I hope this post inspired you to go whale watching in Iceland. It will be a true adventure. If you have experience with whale watching in Iceland and want to share your story, or if you have a question about it, please leave a comment below.
And don’t forget to check out what you can explore in Iceland!