Whales in Iceland – What to Expect on a Whale Watching Tour in Iceland – Best Places for Whale Watching in Iceland
For many people, it is a lifelong dream to see whales in the wild nature. Whales are fascinating creatures and they are at home in the world’s oceans. They are often very social animals and communicate with each other over very long distances.
Whale Watching in Europe
Many people are not aware that Europe offers interesting whale watching opportunities and they think this is an activity that is available only in other parts of the world. Many species of cetaceans inhabit the waters around Europe and Iceland is often called the hub for whale watching in Europe. More than 20 different species live in the waters surrounding Iceland and 8 of them can frequently be seen on whale watching tours. The main reason for this large number of whales around Iceland is the country’s unique position between two ocean currents in the North Atlantic. The waters are filled with krill and fish so there is plenty of food for the dolphins and whales around Iceland. In this article, we introduce the most common whales in Iceland and describe where you can see them on a whale watching tour and at which time of the year.
Whales in Iceland – Whales around Iceland
You can see a variety of different whale species on a whale watching tour in Iceland. When planning a whale trip to Iceland it is important to know that specific whale species are only regularly seen in specific areas of Iceland. It also depends on in which month of the year you are visiting Iceland since some whale species are only seen during a specific time of the year. Here is an overview of the most common whales in Iceland.
1. Minke Whales in Iceland
Minke whales are among the most common whales around Iceland. This whale species is very common in the bay next to Reykjavik. But minke whales are also regularly spotted in other regions of the island (in the north, the Westfjords and around Snaefellsnes in the west of the island).
2. Humpback Whales in Iceland
Due to their acrobatic behavior, humpback whales are very popular among whale watchers. Lucky passengers might not only see humpback whales lifting their fluke before going on a deeper dive but can also experience how they hit the water with their dorsal fins or even jump out of the water with the whole body. Husavik in the North of the island is often called the whale watching capital of Europe. However, humpback whales are also very common in other regions of Iceland such as Snaefellsnes, Akureyri, and Dalvik.
INSIDER TIP to Watch Humpbacks: Whale Watching Westfjords
An insider tip for humpback whale tours in Iceland is Holmavik in the Westfjords of Iceland. In this remote region of Iceland, numerous humpback whales spend the summer in a sheltered bay. They can be observed on a two-hour whale tour. This is one of the shortest whale tours in Iceland, making it ideal for families with small children and for travelers who are afraid of seasickness. In addition, this whale watching tour in the Westfjords is ideal for photographers. The boat trip is usually very calm and the boat moves only slightly – very convenient for long lens photography.
3. Orcas in Snaefellsnes – Killer Whales in Iceland
Many are fascinated by orcas and would love to see these animals in wild nature. Iceland is a great place to observe orcas in Europe but it is very important to choose the right region for your whale watching tour. Snaefellsnes is the only region in Iceland where orcas are regularly seen on whale watching tours. Láki Tours is the only operator of whale watching tours in Snaefellsnes and the tours start between December and February from Grundarfjördur and between March and October from Ólafsvík.
4. Watching Sperm Whales in Iceland
Sperm whales are the largest predators in the world and can only be seen in a few places around the world. This includes Snaefellsnes in the West of Iceland. Here you can watch sperm whales on a whale tour, especially in spring and summer. Sperm whales dive very deep and can stay for up to 2 hours under the water surface. Watching sperm whales is a unique experience because, compared to other types of whales, they stay on the water surface for a very long time. They breathe in and out very relaxed and fill their lungs with oxygen. Before disappearing into the endless depths of the sea, they almost always stretch their tail far into the air.
5. Blue Whale, the World’s Largest Animal
Blue whales are the largest creatures in the world and you need quite a bit of luck to see these impressive whales in Iceland. In Husavik you have the best chances to see blue whales in early summer. During this time, blue whales migrate north and usually like to linger for a few days in Northern Iceland. But also in Snaefellsnes, blue whales are usually spotted a few times each year. However, there is no specific month where blue whales are spotted in Snaefellsnes and it varies from year to year. In 2019, for example, blue whales were observed in Snaefellsnes for several days in early July.
6. Fin Whale
Fin whales are the second-largest whales in the world and, like the blue whales, you need quite a piece of luck to see them on a whale watching tour in Iceland.
7. White-Beaked Dolphins in Iceland
White-beaked dolphins live all year round around Iceland and often stay near the shore. Therefore you can see them very often on a whale tour in Iceland. These dolphins live in groups and with a bit of luck, you can see hundreds of animals on a whale watching tour. In Snaefellsnes you have the chance seeing these so-called “superpods” with hundreds of animals, especially in September and October.
8. Seeing Pilot Whales on a Whale Watching in Iceland
Pilot whales belong to the dolphin family and they live in family groups. Large groups of pilot whales can be seen around Snaefellsnes, especially in late summer and autumn.
9. Harbor Porpoise
The harbor porpoise is the smallest whale in Iceland. Every now and then they can be seen on a whale watching in Iceland. However, these whales are also very shy and are usually only seen well when the sea is very calm.
Best Time for Whale Watching in Iceland
Whales can be seen all year round in Iceland. Therefore, a whale tour is a great experience in Iceland both in summer and in winter.
Whale Watching Iceland in Summer
Summer is the main season for whale watching in Iceland. Summer is the main travel season and between April and September also a variety of different whales stays in the waters around Iceland. In summer you can have a great whale watching experience all around Iceland and you basically can’t go wrong with any region. Husavik is the most popular place for whale watching where several tour operators offer tours. If you want to be away from the tourist crowds, you should take a closer look at the whale tour from Hólmavík. There, you mainly see humpback whales. The bay is known for its sheltered location and for the fact that the whales usually stay very close to the land. This makes Hólmavík a great place for whale watching in Iceland.
For orcas and sperm whales, the best chances you have in Snaefellsnes in West Iceland. Snaefellsnes is also a great area if you are interested to see different whale species on a tour. It is not uncommon that three or even more species of whales are spotted on a summer whale tour. Observing the behavior of different whale species is not only interesting for children but also provides an interesting opportunity for photographers.
Whale Watching Iceland in Winter
Even if the weather is a bit colder and contrary in winter, you should still add a whale watching tour to your travel itinerary. Snaefellsnes in West Iceland in particular is the perfect place for a whale watching tour in winter. At this time of the year, you have good chances to see orcas and sperm whales. In winter you should definitely have in mind that from time to time a whale tour has to be canceled due to bad weather. Therefore, we highly recommend spending at least one night in Snaefellsnes to increase the chances of participating in a whale watching tour. Our recommendation for your stay in Snaefellsnes is our cozy guesthouse in Grundarfjördur.
Best Places for Whale Watching in Iceland
For an authentic whale watching experience in Iceland, we recommend joining a whale tour in Snaefellsnes or in the Westfjords. In both areas, only one operator offer whale tours. There will be only one boat in the bay looking for whales meaning the disturbance to the whales is minimal. Learn more about those tours by clicking the buttons below.