Whale Watching in Iceland

Eco-friendly & Ethical Whale Tours In Iceland Reviewed

Explore

Whale Watching In Iceland

whale watching iceland reykjavik

When in the land of fire and ice, whale watching in Iceland is a must!

As some of you may already know, the cold and rich Icelandic waters make for the ideal habitat for a large variety of marine mammals. But ddi you know that more than 20 species of whales and dolphins make the Icelandic waters their home, especially during the summer?

Nonetheless, you can visit the country in practically any month and still successfully spot your favorite whale species in their natural habitat! And the cities of Reykjavik, Akureyri, and Husavik  only contribute to Iceland’s reputation as the whale watching capital of Europe. In this guide I will show you what makes these tours so special, what the hotspots are and the rich history that the Icelandic culture & its people share with these gentle giants.

I wish you a whale of a time!

Best Whale Watching Spots in Iceland

While whale watching has almost a 100% success rate in Reykjavik between June and August, the vicinity of Akureyri to the whale watching hotspot of Eyjafjord makes it a favorite among whale enthusiasts. And the deep waters and islands off Husavik house hundreds of whales and puffins throughout the year.

The success rate of whale watching from a particular location will primarily depend on the season and the species.

In Iceland you can find whale watching tours in all three cities. Tourists can choose between classic, VIP, and combo tours to explore the waters and learn about whales in great detail. The ships and RIB boats are fully equipped with everything you need for a safe and comfortable ride. The tours I reviewed are members of the Icelandic Whale Watching Association (Ice Whale) and focus on providing its guest with a strong educational message about marine life conservation.

A quick overview of the tours per city:

  • Whale tours from Reykjavik
  • Whale tours from Akureyri (calm waters en best location for people who get seasick)
  • Whale tours from Husavik

Keep reading to learn more about the best ethical & eco-friendly Icelandic whale watching tours!


Welcome to Reykjavik!

whale watching iceland reykjavik

Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is another sought-after whale watching destination in the city throughout the year. And the biggest reason for the high success rate here is the Faxafloi bay in its vicinity. The shallow and nutrient-filled water of this bay makes it appealing to minke whales and humpbacks. During the summertime it often houses puffins, white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises and much more!

If you don’t want to spend the whole day on the waters, then the Reyjavik whale watching tours will be your best bet as most of them only last for around 3 hours. The usual pickup point is the Old Harbor of the city, but do cross-check to know the exact pickup point and time.

Our pick: A Classic Whale Watching Tour From Reykjavik

whales in Iceland


If you want to spot different species like minke whales, orcas, blue whales, and humpbacks, then I strongly recommend opting for the classic tour in Reykjavik, especially during the summer between April and September. 

This 3-hour long trip commences from the old harbor (located close to the city center) in Reykjavik, atop the country’s largest whale watching ship AKA Andrea. You will be accompanied by a guide to help you learn more about the species and their habitat, and answer any queries. Not only that, but you will also have access to an educational app that supports commentary in 5 languages.

Plus, the baleen feeding system on-board allows you to come in close contact with the majestic creatures of the sea from a safe distance.

You may even come across a few white-beaked dolphins, harbor porpoises and even a few sharks. And if you don’t spot any whales the first time, they will offer a complimentary ticket for a second trip. How’s that for an add-on? 

The spacious deck of the Andera facilitates 360-degree viewing of the breathtaking landscape, while the spacious, heated indoor seating is equipped with large windows so that you don’t have to compromise on comfort. Moreover, they supply adequate warm clothes (like overalls) to keep you warm and cozy amidst the sea breeze.

Lastly, don’t forget to visit the souvenir shop on-board to take a piece of memory back home!

Most Popular RIB Whale Watching Tour From Reykjavik

reykjavik whale watching

The VIP tour is specially curated to satisfy the adventurer in you, which is why it involves getting aboard the newest RIB (rigid inflatable boat) so you can get as close to the whales as possible. Featuring a dozen suspension seats for reinforced safety and comfort, the RIB will sail you through the Faxafloi Bay and its adjacent islands. 

All you have to do is keep an eye for more than 20 species of whales, seals, dolphins, and sea birds that flock to the region. But before that, behold the stunning views of the Harpa Concert Hall and Sun Voyager sculpture in the ever-so-slightly changing natural light.

One of the highlights of this 2-hour long trip is the sight of puffin birds laying a single egg on one of the islands as you cruise smoothly over the deep blue water. Since a qualified guide will be on-board, don’t hesitate to resolve your queries or ask for more interesting facts about the natural wildlife of the islands. 

The RIB will depart from the old harbor of the city, and the crew will provide you with life jackets, overalls (waterproof), scarves, gloves, and goggles for maximum safety and comfort. However, children below the age of 10 years are refrained from getting on-board.


Welcome to Akureyri!

whale watching iceland reykjavik

One of the largest towns in the country, Akureyri is situated on the northeastern coast and is close to the city of Husavik. At the same time, its strategic location places it close to the country’s largest fjord, i.e., Eyjafjordur fjord. 

Contrary to popular expectations, whale watching from this fjord is a rather smooth and comfortable experience, as it remains protected from strong winds and waves. Hence, the calm waters are perfect for all whale enthusiasts who fear seasickness as well as for family tours with kids.

Eyjafjordur is mainly dominated by humpback whales, although you may also find minkes, dolphins, and even harbour porpoises. 

Our pick: A Classic Whale Watching Tour From Akureyri

elding whale watching Akureyri

The classic 3-hour tour ensures that you have the most fulfilling whale-watching experience. Depart aboard a specially designed, high-speed whale watching ship to make your way through Eyjafjord to spot the majestic humpback whales in the blue waters. Here again, I suggest taking this trip in the summer months, as it’s the best time to get an up-close and personal view of how the summer sun instills new life into the region.

The highly-trained and experienced guides are experts at whale watching, so you can rest assured about getting your money’s worth through their assistance. Besides, the 200 passenger-carrying capacity is spread indoors and outdoors, and a panoramic viewing deck means you don’t have to worry about crowding.

They have equipped the ship with a bar and cafeteria, where you choose among the different refreshment options. Additionally, the complimentary Wi-Fi on-board keeps you in touch with your close ones on the shore.

Most Popular RIB Whale Watching Tour From Akureyri

whale watching from Akureyri

If you think that the VIP whale watching tour is restricted just to the capital city of Reykjavik, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise! The special RIB boats are accessible in Akureyri as well so that you don’t miss out on the fun. The smaller design means you have better access to the remote interiors. Plus, they can cover a larger area in one go!.

Embark on this 2-hour-long adventure ride from the floating pier and get a chance to sail close to the humpback whale, dolphin, and marine bird population of the area. This departure point is located close to the Hof cultural center, and tourists should reach at least 30 minutes in advance.

Since each boat can carry only 12 passengers for each trip, the guides can engage in one-to-one interaction with the tourists to address all their queries in detail. In lieu of the safety requirements on-board, you will be provided with neoprene gloves, goggles, life jackets, etc., right before you set sail.

However, be informed that this boat doesn’t have a cafeteria or toilet. Additionally, the following passengers are refrained from getting on-board:

  • Pregnant females
  • Children below 10 years of age
  • People with back and/or mobility problems
  • People under 145 cm 

Welcome to Husavik!

whale watching iceland reykjavik

Nicknamed the “whale watching capital of Europe,” Husavik is an iconic fishing town situated on the Skjalfandi Bay in the northeastern part of the country. 

It’s a popular destination for spotting humpback whales, which are attracted by the rich availability of planktons. These mosses are formed when the flowing water in the region deposits rich nutrients from the surrounding mineral-rich regions. 

I suggest planning your Husavik trip in the summer months between June and August, as you can spot as many as 11 species in the Skjalfandi Bay (off the coast of Husavik). And while at it, don’t forget to make a stop at Lunday, where the warm water temperatures from mid-April to mid-August make the puffins flock to the area. No wonder it’s called the “Island of the puffins”!

You will find different vessels for this trip, which depart from the harbor located close to the main street of the city. Here, I should tell you that North Sailing, the oldest whale watching cruise service in Husavik, has a fleet of traditional yet eco-friendly boats that you should definitely check out.

The other main attraction of Husavik is the whale museum, which can complement your whale watching trip like nothing else. From the habitat of these majestic creatures to their features and protective measures, you can learn all about it inside the museum.

Our pick: A Classic Whale Watching Tour From Husavik

whale watching from husavik

Want to go whale watching while getting a taste of the “classic” Icelandic sea expeditions? Then the classic 3-hour long whale watching tour from Husavik will fit the bill. Get atop the traditional oak boat for a one-of-a-kind whale watching experience amidst the scenic blue waters of the Skjalfandi Bay, surrounded by snow-capped peaks.

However, there’s more to this bay off the north coast of Iceland than its natural beauty, as it’s a hotspot for wildlife, especially humpback and giant blue whales. Unsurprisingly, this makes it a popular destination for wildlife lovers visiting the country.

Once you arrive at the Gentle Giants ticket center (Central Husavik) pickup spot and board the ship, the trained guide will help spot the whales and educate you about them. While the crew will provide you with a warm jacket and rain poncho, I still recommend the guests carry some extra warm and waterproof clothes.

Additionally, you can avail wheelchair services on-board by contacting us in advance and qualify for a complimentary ticket in case there are no whales or dolphins visible during the ride.

Most Popular RIB Whale Watching Tour From Husavik

rib whale tour husavik

The VIP tour is conducted on a RIB boat to get you close to the whale population of the Skjalfandi Bay while taking care of your safety. Its compact shape and high speed enable it to cover a greater distance, which only increases your chances of spotting these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

If you plan to take this tour from mid-April to August, then an added bonus will be a stop at Puffin island en route to the bay. Visiting this island during this “nesting” period provides tourists with a unique chance of spotting hundreds of puffins in addition to humpback whales, blue whales, and dolphins.

Rest assured that the guide on-board will demonstrate all the safety features and instructions while making you familiar with the native marine life.

A word of caution: do not carry any large or heavy luggage for the trip and dress in comfortable, warm clothes, and shoes. Also, they don’t allow the following tourists to get on-board due to safety reasons:

  • Children below 7 years of age 
  • Pregnant women
  • Tourists with heart and back problems
  • Tourists with a height less than 130 cm
  • Tourists on wheelchairs

Combo Tours From Reykjavik

whale watching iceland reykjavik

Want to make the most of your stay in Reykjavik? Then check out these combo tours!

Whale Watching And The Golden Circle Tour

whale watching Iceland tour

Starting from Reykjavik Central, this 11-hour long trip is divided into two sections. Tourists start by getting on-board a spacious and comfortable bus equipped with GPS tablets and audio guides, USB chargers, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

The first stop is the historic Thingvellir National Park (southwest Iceland) – home to the first democratic parliament in the world. Then, proceed to behold the sight of the Strokkur geyser erupting from the geothermal Golden Circle, followed by the picturesque Gullfoss waterfalls. Tourists get a minimum of 30 minutes at each spot so you can explore the region to your heart’s content. 

For the next part of the tour, climb aboard a special whale watching boat to cruise through the Faxafloi Bay in search of the different whale species like mink, humpback, harbor porpoises, etc. Additionally, tourists are granted admission to an educational multimedia show at the whale watching center.

Whale Watching And Meet The Puffins Tour

best whale watching tour husavik

This half-day combo tour will give you the best of both worlds, as tourists start an exciting journey to get a closer view of the wildlife aboard an Old Skuli. It’s a small boat designed to facilitate better access to the remote puffin islands. What’s more, they assure the guests with a 100% puffin watching guarantee!

Next, you will be transferred to the Andrea whale watching ship for a 3 to 3.5-hour long whale watching tour in the Faxafloi Bay. The deck of this ship is equipped with a spacious and fully-stocked cafeteria, so you can take a quick refreshment break.

Alternatively, tourists can choose to avail the express ship, which departs about an hour after the Andrea but gets you to the destination quicker. In this case, you can go whale watching on a different day as convenient.

Whale Watching Combined With The Whales of Iceland Exhibition

whale museum Iceland

For people who just can’t get enough of the whale population in Iceland, this tour is worth investing in. One of the largest whale watching boards takes you deep into the Faxafloi Bay off the old Harbor at Reykjavik. And one of our best guides will be on-board to educate you more about the indigenous wildlife.

The next part of the tour involves a visit to the Whales of Iceland exhibition, which has about a dozen life-size models of the different whale species found in the country. Complete with audible guides, videos, VR headsets, and informational counters, it’s your one-stop destination to know everything whale!

Entry to this exhibition is free for the ship ticket holders, and tourists can choose the order of the activities.


Other Great Whale Watching Spots

orcas in Iceland

Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Perhaps, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the best location for spotting the “rare” whale species, such as the killer whales or orcas. Although many tourists consider this area worth visiting primarily due to the scenic beauty, its whale population also makes it pretty desirable.

The best time to spot orcas is during the winter and spring months, as they travel to this part of the country in search of reliable food sources. Apart from that, the month of June is specifically preferred among tourists, as it gives them the best chance to spot rare sperm whales. 

In case you didn’t know this, these whales are widely regarded as the most aggressive hunters in the whale family, and they are deep divers as well. So, spotting them in their natural habitat surely is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The summer months, on the other hand, make the region more inhabitable for species like humpbacks and minkes. Furthermore, white-beaked dolphins and harbor porpoises make their way here when the temperature becomes somewhat warm.

Westfjords

Unlike the other destinations mentioned so far, whale watching activities for tourists or visitors in the small Holmavik city of the Westfjords started only a couple of years back in 2017. Hence, it hasn’t become as popular as the others. Nevertheless, people who visit this remote town to watch whales have rarely returned disappointed.

Our favorite thing about this tour is the completely natural or raw setting, complete with stunning, undisturbed landscapes, including geothermal pools. You will also find multiple puffin nests spread throughout the land, which adds to the beauty of the region.

The boat whale watching trips in the surrounding Steingrimfjordur bay generally last for a couple of hours, and the calm water means there are negligible chances of seasickness. Moreover, the boats don’t go further into the water, and you may well start spotting whales only a few miles off the coast. 

Even if you haven’t booked a boat trip, you can peacefully watch the mammals in their habitat by merely driving on the Iceland ring road in the absence of large crowds. 

Steingrimfjordur is a top destination for humpback whales, as they are the most commonly found species here, irrespective of the season. And with luck by your side, you may even see them breaching or tail slapping. 

What Weather Is Best For Whale Watching In Iceland?

Since the Icelandic winters can get extremely cold, most people plan their whale watching trips in the summer, when the average temperature varies between 50 and 59-degree Fahrenheit. And it can get as warm as 77-degree Fahrenheit. In tandem with the clear skies and relatively calm water, your whale watching experience can be both comfortable and successful.

However, I still suggest carrying warm clothes as the temperature can come down to 40-degree Fahrenheit at times. Besides, the country is almost always windy, and the cold may intensify as your boat speeds through the water.

What Is The Best Season To Go Whale Watching In Iceland?

best season whale watching Iceland

The best thing about whale watching in Iceland is that you have significant chances of spotting the creature almost all the time. However, April to early October is the ideal time for this activity, with June to August being widely regarded as the “peak season.”

Whale Watching In Iceland During Summer

The summer months in Iceland typically last from May to August, and many people consider it to be the best time for whale watching owing to several reasons.

Firstly, the warm weather, in tandem with the cold waters of the ocean, makes for favorable conditions for the whales. In fact, this is the time when Balmer whales and many other species migrate near the poles for food. 

Another advantage of the weather conditions during this time is the reduced chances of storms, meaning the whale watching tours are less likely to get canceled or postponed. Plus, the absence of strong winds keeps the water calm, allowing better access to remote locations, especially on smaller boats like RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats). These facilitate an up-close and personal whale watching experience, which is something you definitely wouldn’t forget!

The comfortable temperature also makes it convenient for the tourists to spot the whales from open boats or the cruise decks without getting too cold. 

Whale Watching In Iceland During Winter

It’s no secret that the winter months in Iceland (late October to early or mid-April) can get pretty cold, with temperatures reaching the freezing point or below. Furthermore, the long hours of darkness may discourage you from planning a whale watching trip in Iceland in the winter. 

However, winter whale watching is becoming a popular activity among tourists. If you can brace the ice cold winds and the rough waters, then you may have a very satisfying whale watching trip. This is because many tourists avoid this season, especially those who are prone to seasickness or can’t bear the extreme temperature.

You can also see a wide variety of whale species in the popular whale watching spots of the country. For instance, the availability of food in the Breidafjordur Fjord (between the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Westfjords) makes it home to the orcas and humpbacks. 

If you travel up to Northern Iceland, you will find the waters flocked by sea belugas, which is not commonplace during the summers. Although they aren’t native to this region, they migrate from the colder Arctic region to the less cold waters of Iceland.

The biggest highlight of a winter whale watching tour is the view of the Northern Lights from the waters. Talk about the ultimate trip!

Which Season Should I Choose? Pros And Cons

Given the fact that you can spot whales in both seasons, we’d say that the decision will depend on your convenience. That said, here are the major pros and cons of each so that you can make a well-informed decision.

Summer Whale Watching

Pros:

  • Calm waters and warmer temperatures
  • Comfortable conditions for tourists 
  • Tours are more likely to be successful
  • Wide diversity of species
  • Tours can be conducted from any coast

Cons:

  • Extreme tourist rush 

Winter Whale Watching In Iceland

Pros:

  • Low tourist traffic
  • Excellent chances of spotting belugas 
  • Scenic beauty of snow-capped mountains
  • Better whale watching chances at Breidafjordur Fjord
  • Possibility of watching the Northern Lights

Cons:

  • The waters may be rough and the temperatures may be extremely cold

Whales And Dolphins Of Iceland

Humpback Whales

humpback whale Iceland

The most common summer inhabitant, humpback whales, are known for their acrobatics, which truly makes them the center of attraction. If you’ve booked a whale watching trip from northern Iceland, there’s a very good chance that you might see them in full action near the shore.

Minke Whales

minke whale Iceland

Minke whales are among the smallest members of the baleen species and are renowned for their physical characteristics. They feature a unique white band on their pectoral fins and usually appear in groups of 2 or 3.

Orcas

This killer whale species has a population of about 5,000 all year round, with most of them appearing on the shores in the summer months. Their gigantic bodies and rare acrobatics make them a favorite among whale-watchers. However, this doesn’t mean that you can spot them easily as they are very active.

White-Beaked Dolphins

white beaked dolphin Iceland

White-beaked dolphins are commonplace in the Icelandic waters, and they stay close to the shore throughout the year. You can even spot them in groups of hundreds, playing on the surface of the water.

Harbor Porpoises

You may only spot harbor proposes if you have an extremely trained guide on board, as these small whales are very shy and appear on the shore for a brief period. The most interesting feature of this species is roostering, wherein the whales swim across the surface at lightning speed, especially when feeding.

Blue Whales And Fin Whales

blue whale and fin whale Iceland

Although blue whales are a common sight in Iceland during summers, their population is declining at a faster rate. Besides, they appear in small groups or as individuals near the shore, with active feeding patterns in cold waters.

Fin whales, on the other hand, are generally found in the remote waters of northern Iceland, so you may want to take a RIB to spot them.

Belugas

beluga whale Icelandic

Belugas are immensely popular due to their ability to move their head independently and “emote” various expressions. You can find them in the Beluga Sanctuary off the south coast of the country or in the wild on the north coast.

Narwhal

narwal Iceland

Termed “the unicorn of the sea,” the male narwhals are famous for their elongated tusks protruding from a canine tooth. They are a rare sighting in the remote northern waters of Iceland.

Beaked Whales

Beaked whale Iceland

Beaked whales are among the least popular species, as they spend very little time on the water surface. However, there are around 40,000 of them in southeast Iceland, so you might get lucky!

Pilot Whales

Pilot whales have large yet sleek bodies and are spotted only occasionally, despite having a population of more than 30,000. They are pretty active and like to stay away from the shores.

Can You See Whales And Dolphins From The Shore In Iceland?

whale watching in Iceland from shore
Click here to use the interactive map.

I understand that not all visitors may be comfortable with a boat journey, no matter how calm the water is. But the fear and anxiety of sailing shouldn’t be a roadblock for your whale or dolphin watching trip. So, here are a few places that you may visit to catch a glimpse of these gigantic mammals from the land. If you are interested you can find the Google Whale Watching Spots Interactive Map here.

  • Reykjavik
    • Believe it or not but it’s possible to spot both whales and dolphins from land in the capital city. And the best place to do so is the  Eiðisgrandi beach, situated on the western coast of Reykjavik. This is because there are binoculars specifically installed for whale and dolphin watching, so don’t bother carrying one. However, don’t run low on time and patience!
  • Snaefellsnes Peninsula
    • Aside from orcas, the northern part of the Snaefellsnes is frequently visited by porpoises and dolphins. The summer months will give you a better chance of seeing them from the shore, as they tend to follow the other species who make their way to the nearby regions. In this regard, many people have been particularly successful in spotting different species of whales and dolphins from the towns situated on the coast. You can also visit the Ondverdarnes on the western tip of the peninsula to try and spot whales from the land.
  • Kolgrafafjordur
    • Another location that allows you to watch orcas and dolphins from a safe distance is Kolgrafafjordur (situated east of Kolgrafafjordur). I suggest heading directly to the bridge to increase your chances of success.
  • Hellissandur
    • In the past few years, there have been many instances of pilot whales coming up to the Hellissandur harbor during the summer months. According to reports from tourists and bystanders, a large number of pilot whales got too close to the harbor, and rescuers had to jump into action to safely push them back into the water. Similar cases have also cropped up in Rif, a town located not very far from Hellissandur. Although experts haven’t been able to understand the exact reason for this, the general perception is that the whales may have followed a “leader whale,” who might have, in turn, lost its way.

  • Steingrimsfjordur Fjord
    • The Steingrimsfjordur Fjord is your best bet if you want to spot minke whales, provided that the water remains calm. Locals have also reported spotting the world’s largest mammals, aka blue whales here, although a very long time back.

  • Latrabjarg Cliff
    • In case you aren’t familiar with the geography of the country, then let us introduce you to the Latrabjarg cliff. It’s the largest sea cliff located on the western tip of Iceland, which is almost 8.8 miles wide and about 440 meters high. Despite being regarded as a “bird cliff,” tourists may be able to sight whales and dolphins by laying flat on the ground such that their hands hang from the edge. However, be extremely careful while doing so.

  • Hvalfjordur
    • The name Hvalfjordur translates to “whale fjord,” so you can keep your hopes high while visiting this part of the country. Besides, you don’t have to stop at any dedicated whale watching spot per se, as you can spot whales and dolphins by simply rolling down the windows of the car.

  • Skjalfandi Bay
    • Although Skjalfandi Bay hosts some of the best on-water whale watching trips in the country, there are some spots towards the north of the region where you can spot whales and dolphins from the land. However, make sure that you have some time in hand as you may have to travel from one location to another to get the best view.

  • Neskaupstadur
    • You can plan a trip to the small town of Neskaupstadur situated in Nordurfjordur (in Westfjords) during the summer for satisfying whale and dolphin watching from the shore.

Can You Swim With Whales And Dolphins In Iceland?

minke whale Iceland

If you’re looking for ways to make your whale watching trips all the more memorable, then consider swimming alongside them under the (midnight) sun in Iceland. Yes, you read that right!

Many whale-watching tour operators in the country include a few hours of swimming with the humpback whales in their itineraries. These tours are generally conducted between June and August. 

Tourists start from Reykjavik in special whale-watching boats to reach the Eyjafjordur fjord on the northern coast of the country. This is the time when these gentle giants migrate from the Caribbean islands to the Icelandic waters primarily in search of food. Plus, the day-long sunlight during the summer months helps with visibility underwater.

Once at the destination, a swimming instructor will train you with the basics so that you can have a fruitful yet safe swimming experience. Such trainers or inspectors are able to detect the perfect spots (usually near the shore) where whales prefer to feed the most.

The swimming session is followed by a warm bath and whale watching, although some tours may start with whale watching and then move on to the swimming part. In either case, it’s important for visitors to know what to carry and how to use the swimming safety gear.

Likewise, some dolphin-watching tour operators may have provisions for swimming with dolphins in protected areas in accordance with the ethical guidelines. So, contact the customer service team in advance to know about it.

How To Find An Ethical And Eco-friendly Whale Tour?

Over the years, whale watching has emerged as one of the most popular tourist activities that Iceland has to offer. Serving the dual purpose of boosting the economy and promoting awareness about these mammals. But at the same time, it’s essential for both the tour operator and visitors to ensure the safety of whales and dolphins, as well as nature in general.

Hence, I urge the guests to always opt for eco-friendly and ethical tours that follow the required guidelines of the non-governmental Icelandic Whale Watching Association (Ice Whale) aimed at protecting these inhabitants of the water and their natural habitat. 

As you may know, many species of whales and dolphins are sensitive to sound, as they use it as the primary medium for communication and navigation. And loud noises around their habitat can disrupt their daily activities and put them in severe distress. 

That’s why Whales Watching Iceland strongly recommends tour companies that use durable and eco-friendly vessels that focuses on animal friendly operations. To make it easy for you, I have already selected the tour companies that are part of the Ice Whale alliance and that follow a whale friendly code of conduct (CoC).

Ice whale code of conduct
Code of conduct by Ice Whale.

The aim of the CoC is as follows:

  • Minimising impact on cetacean for the future and the sustainability of whale watching operation in Iceland.
  • Ensuring the best possible encounter, both for animal welfare and passenger enjoyment.
  • Increasing development, understanding and awareness of appropriate practices when watching cetaceans.

Another very important thing to check is that the tour operator should have the required licenses and registration for operating on the water among the whales. If they don’t provide you with these details, then look for another operator.

How To Prepare For A Whale Watching Tour?

No matter how long or short your whale watching trip is, proper preparation can help you make the most out of it. 

For starters, choose a dress that’s appropriate for the weather. I suggest avoiding loose clothing and shoes, as they may hinder your movement on-board. And instead of layering from the get-go, carry a couple of waterproof jackets or sweaters to counter the cold.

Besides, wear an adequate amount of sunscreen with high SPF properties and a good pair of sunglasses to stay protected from the sun. Keep some anti-seasickness medications handy along with regular medications, if any.

On that note, you should avoid carrying valuables and only pack the bare minimum, preferably in a waterproof bag to protect them from sudden splashes. Also, make sure that your camera is fully charged and carry a battery backup for emergency situations.

Once on-board, stick to the instructions provided by your tour guide and don’t go too close to the deck. This may make you prone to injuries or even falling in the water if a wave suddenly hits the boat. Likewise, you should not try to get too close to the whales or try to touch or feed them until you’re instructed to do so.

Whale Watching Photography & Video Tips

Not everybody is a pro photographer. And guess what? You don’t need to be one to click amazing pictures as long as you follow these simple tips!

  1. Use A Tripod
    • If possible, carry a tripod on-board so that you don’t have to worry about keeping your hands steady. Additionally, use image stabilization modes, such as anti-shake to click clear images even in low light.
  2. Don’t Use The Flash
    • The harsh flash of your camera may disturb the whales and make them retreat, so it’s always advisable to turn off the flash while clicking pictures.
  3. Use The Burst Mode
    • The burst mode on your phone or camera allows clicking multiple pictures in quick succession, meaning you don’t have to wait for the device to wake up between clicks. If you aren’t using the video mode, then I strongly recommend using the burst mode, especially to capture the movements of the whales and dolphins.
  4. Back Up The Images
    • Always ensure that your cloud or physical storage has enough space to back up all the images and videos. Store everything (no matter how “bad” the clicks are), as you can easily remove them after the trip. After all, you wouldn’t want to spend your time on-board deleting images!

History Of Icelandic Whaling

Interestingly, commercial whaling in Iceland dates back to the early 12th century. And despite being one of the top destinations in the world for whale watching, whaling is still prevalent here.

Although the whaling industry had always been a subject of controversy, it hit a new low in the late 1980s. Some whale activists of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society sank two of the four whaling ships in the country, which sparked a massive global outrage.

Many national and international activists heavily criticized this event for being too extreme and “an act of terrorism.” Similarly, the Icelandic population was enraged as they viewed this incident as a gross intrusion into national affairs. 

The two ships were quickly revived, and the whaling industry began functioning with substantial public approval. And, as whale watching became popular, the backing for commercial whaling by the Icelandic population reduced to a great extent. 

In fact, not a single whale was hunted in 2019 – the first of its kind incident in over 15 years. Furthermore, many old whaling vessels are being used as observatories to study whales in their natural surroundings.

The Story of Keiko the Killer Whale

Keiko orca whale Iceland

Keiko, a male orca, was undoubtedly the most famous whale to swim in the Icelandic waters and draw people’s attention to the plight of whales in the country.

Captured in East Iceland in the late 1970s, Keiko was bought and sold to different aquariums, where he was trained to perform various stunts for live audiences. Not long after, he bagged a role as Willy in the 1993 film “Free Willy” by Warner Brothers.

Two years later, a foundation was established by the same name with the aim of sending Keiko back to his natural habitat. And in the late 1990s, he flew from the US to the Icelandic waters aboard a US-cargo plane.

The idea was to help him reunite with other killer whales and live freely in the ocean, for which he underwent rigorous training in the Klettsvik Bay (Vestmannaeyjar Islands). Although he left Iceland as a part of a big killer whale group, he showed up in Norway in September 2002, desperate for human contact. 

All attempts to help him live freely failed, as he passed away that December at the age of 27 due to pneumonia while swimming alone. Since then, the whale watching industry in Iceland has seen a massive boost, with thousands of people flocking to the country almost every year.

The Beluga Whale Sanctuary

The Beluga Whale Sanctuary of the Westman Islands is part of the Sea Life Trust and was established with the joint support of Merlin Entertainments and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). It operates to provide a natural and better habitat to all the belugas under its care and protect the ones in the wild. Plus, it performs various research activities to learn more about these species.

It’s open to the public, and the ticket revenue earned goes towards fulfilling its goals. In hindsight, it aims to pave the way for the protection of more than 3,000 whales and dolphins under care facilities or commercial performance centers. The first inhabitants of the sanctuary were a couple of belugas, who traveled more than 6,000 miles by air and sea from an amusement park in Shanghai.