The best time for whale watching in Iceland is during the summer months of June - September. Whales in Iceland are migrating animals. Although a considerable number of whales are in Icelandic waters during the winter months, most of them are here in the summer and staying in warmer seas over winter. Also, whale watching is very dependent on weather and sea conditions. The winters can be harder in this respect and, of course, there are more tour cancellations during the winter months when the weather can be bad. However, many of the best tours are in the winter months where the sun is low and the mountains are white with snow in the background. But the best chance of seeing whales is, as mentioned, June through September. with the exception of seeing Orca's and Sperm whales (early spring) and the blue whale (early spring) Whale watching in Iceland is operated from: Reykjavik capital, Dalvík, Ólafsvík, Ísafjörður, Hauganes, Hjalteyri, Akureyrir and Húsavík. In this article you will learn all you need to know about whale watching in Iceland
More than 20 different species of whales and dolphins can be found in Icelandic waters. Some are seen rarely other seen regularly on whale watching tours around the island. Different whale species can be seen in different places around the island. Whale watching is a hugely popular tourist activity in Iceland but whale watching has not been practiced in Iceland for a long time and it took some time convincing the locals that whale watching was a truly a business opportunity. The oldest whale watching company in Iceland is about 26 years old, with most of them claiming to be the original, in some way. Most, if not all of the company's are very environmentally aware, operating with code of conduct rules and with couple of them being Iceland's most awarded for environmental protection. Still, locals are not much aware of the rich life found just outside the harbor and whale watching is not a big part of the locals' lives. However, about 15% -20% of all tourists coming to Iceland do go whale watching and half of all whale watching tours are operated from the capital, Reykjavik. The reason for this is simple, more than 90% of tourists coming to Iceland go through the capital.
Reykjavík city is the most popular whale watching area. Whale watching from Reykjavik takes up to 3 hours and is mostly done in open waters in Faxaflói bay, just outside Reykjavik city. The most common sightings are minke whales, dolphins and porpoises. Also regularly seen are humpback whales which are always fun to see. The summer season is from mid-May to September and during those month there are dozens of departures from Reykjavik's old harbor offered by at least four companies. One of the best thing about whale watching in Faxaflói bay, besides the obvious that Reykjavik city is a main stop in your visit to Iceland, is, that you will pass Lundey island (Puffin island) on your way to the whale watching area. Lundey, as the name implies, is the home of the puffins around Reykjavik during summer. After August the puffins are all gone out to sea where they'll stay until the next mating season in Mai. Several companies offer a short stop at Lundey island on the way out or on the way back, which is an extra plus, other companies offer Whale + Puffin as a combo tours. Whale watching in Reykjavik is all year round. The minke whale was once the most abundant whale around Iceland, however populations have dropped in the last decade, believed to be due to climate change, causing movements of their favored diet to change but also thought to be because of an increasing numbers of humpback whales, a more dominant species pushing the minke whales to other feeding areas. Maybe both having an impact. Minkes are sometimes first spotted in early February but observations usually increase after March with peak months between May and August and than decrease again after October. With few minke whale sightings over high winter season an increase in sightings of humpback whales during winter in Iceland is a fact. Also, seen from time to time, orca's, on their way west of the island.
Snæfellsnes peninsula the home of the Orca. Whale watching in Snæfellsnes peninsula can be a life changing experience. Seeing orca's in the wild does something to people. Even though humpback whales are often named the stars of the whale watching, orca's always called out a strong emotions from people. A three-hour drive west of the island from Reykjavík and you'll end up in Ólafsvík and Grundarfjörður. Whale watching from the two towns is mainly focused on spotting orca's surrounded by breathtaking landscape. Unique place for whale watching under the shadow of the magnificent Snæfellsjökull Glacier, an old volcano that was the inspiration for the Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. Also there nowhere else in Iceland is a better chance to see other toothed-whales like the sperm whales and pilot whales. The main orca season is in the early spring and early summer (April - early July), although there is always the possibility of seeing them further into the summer. In the deeper waters of the area you can see Sperm whales during early spring (April - June) At the end of summer and into the autumn. (July - October) pilot whales come for a visit. Pilot whales always travel together in great groups called pots. The pots range from ten up to hundreds of animals together. Other whales that can be seen are humpback whales and minke whales as well as white-beaked dolphins. Whale watching is offered from Grundafjörður from December to March and from Ólafsvík from April to October.
Westfjords is an ideal destination, one of Iceland's most beautiful and secluded places. You never forget your trip there.
Ísafjörður is the largest town in the Westfjords peninsula, with some 2600 inhabitants and Hólmavík is the largest town in the Strandir region, an area with an exciting and tragic history of witchcraft, witch-hunting and sorcery. Both towns offer whale watching during the summer. The Westfjords are among the most remote places in Iceland and Europe. The history of the Westfjords is the story of the Vikings and wild nature, farmers and fisherman. Traveling in the Westfjords will either make you mad because of waste of wide open nature or liberated you completely. Valleys of untouched nature and terrific mountains will welcome you and often you wont see another person or meet another car for hours and hours. Just you and nature. Tourism and whale watching for tourist is a very new thing for the Westfjords an you can very well feel it when you are there. For century's, the Westfjords were the hub of whaling in western Europe. The hunters were mostly from France and the Balkans. In many places you can still see ancient collapsed whaling stations and one of Iceland's oldest laws dealing with the utilization of whale meat when a whale stranded is due to how many whales migrated to the fjords and some stranded on farmers lands. The law stated that the farmer owned the half of the whale and if a spear was found in the whale, the owner of the spear own the other half. The farmer usually distributed the meat amongst his neighbors. Whaling is no longer practiced in the Westfjords. If you have time, rent a good car and go there!
Húsavík is the whale watching capital of Iceland and Europe, at least if you ask the locals... Húsavik is a great place to go whale watching. This small town lives and breath for whales. Húsavík is the only place in Iceland that have a whale museum with whale bones and skeletons, they even have the skeleton of the great blue whale! Húsavík is a popular town for whale watching and for a good reason. Skjálfandi bay is full of whales during the summer. The Gulf Stream, which carries warm and nutritious water to Iceland, brings fish and krill along the coast of the island and to the bay which then the whale fallows. Skjálfandi bay is the home of the Humpback whale. During a whale watching tour humpbacks are often seen feeding together, sometimes 3-5 individuals. A gorgeous mountain view also helps you getting more likes on your Instagram. Húsavík offers a number of different whale watching tours from four very different company's. Whale watching from Húsavik is offered from Mars through out September with the high season being from July - August. The most special thing about whale watching at Skjálfandi is that there you'll have the changes of seeing the world's largest animal, the Blue whale, the biggest animal of all time. Usually at the end of May until the end of June, this giant migrates into the bay. The females become larger than the males and therefore its fitting to call here the queen of the world. She is graceful, there is calmness about here, nothing like the humpback whale or dolphins, shes does not leap from the waters or put up a show for others, she lifts her tail when she dives, but usually we only see the back fin on here long, thin body. The Blue whale can reach up to 30 meters (100 ft) in length and the tongue alone weighs the same as an elephant.
Eyjafjörður (island fjord) has recently become one of the best places for whale watching in Europe. Last year, sightseeing success in the fjord has been 90% -100% with a lot of incredible humpback sightings. You can sail from Dalvík, Hauganes and Akureyri.
Eyjafjörður one of Iceland's longest fjord and the longest fjord in North Iceland, Eyjafjörður stretches some 60 km into the land. A few rivers flow into the sea in the fjord and fresh water also emerges from the crust at the bottom of the ocean. A combination of freshwater and seawater makes the fjord ideal for hungry whales. The stream around Iceland delivers plankton and fish larvae into the fjord that the whale pursues. Three hydro thermal vent sites with numerous chimneys are found at an unusually shallow depth, only 65 m. Nowhere else in the world have these geographical wonders been found in such shallow waters usually found below 500 m. What makes whale watching from Akureyri special is the calmness of the sea. Since the whale watching takes place in this long, narrow fjord, the sea is usually very calm. The fjord is the home of the Humpback whale. The Humpback whale is following its food into the long fjord from Skjálfandi bay and often swims all the way to the end of the fjord where we find Akureyri town. Akureyri, "The capital of the north" is only a 45 min away from Reykjavik city traveling on a plane or 5 hours if you drive. This wonderful small town is the biggest in Iceland out side of the capital area with little less than 20 thousand residents. During winter its a perfect place to go see the northern lights and ideal whale watching area. Dalvík is a little seaside village in Eyjafjörður about 40 km away from Akureyri easily accessible by car from Akureyri located on the natural paradise of Tröllaskagi (troll) Peninsula. Dalvík harbour is a large fishing and commercial port with a ferry that serves the island of Grímsey island, Iceland's northernmost community, which lies on the Arctic Circle. Hauganes is a small village with approx. 120 inhabitants in the center of Eyjafjörður. There are no stores or shops in the village, not even a gas station, but you will find one of the oldest whale watching company on Iceland. Hjalteyri is another small village on the western shores of Eyjafjörður. Hjalteyri has some of the most interesting diver areas in the world, as the famous geothermal struts are right offshore.
There have been major changes in Icelandic waters for the passed century. This has had a direct impact on migration routs of some whales to Iceland and around Iceland. Whaling around Iceland and in northern Europe in the 18 century also had a major impact on several species of whales and their migration routs
Whale species that were previously seen in Icelandic waters such as Beluga whales, and Narvals have moved their feeding and mating grounds more north, and are now almost exclusively seen around the North Pole, Greenland, Canada and Russia.
The right whale was a common sight in Icelandic waters in the last century and was the most widely hunted whale in the 18th century around Iceland. The whale's name "Right whale" is simply a reference to the whale being the "right whale to hunt". Right whales are slow swimmers and generally curious animals that are easily approachable. They are also one of the few whale species that float in the ocean after they are killed, that made it easy for the whalers to hunt them down and drag them towards land where it was easier to work the meat.
Hunting Right Whales meant that the whale species was virtually exterminated in the North Atlantic ocean, with no more than 400 animals left.
Right whales can become 200 years old and multiply very slowly. They are still at great risk because of the large increase in shipping traffic, and since the whale is so slow to swim, it often is hit by ships and killed. Right whales are in great danger of extinction. Three right whales have been spotted around Iceland in the last 30 years, last one was seen in 2018 just outside Faxaflói bay around Reykjavík during whale watching tour
A similar story is to say about the Gray whales. Gray whales were widely hunted around Iceland in the 18th century and along with changes in the ocean, Gray whales migrate no longer to Iceland. However, there have been signs that Gray whales might once again changing their migration rout and stretch it more up north, possibly close to Iceland.