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Whale Watching in Iceland

Posted By Guru4Travel on May 20, 2012 at 5:24PM

I wasn’t really sure what to expect on a Whale Watching trip, but I'd recommend it as a highlight of things to do in Iceland.

I’ve only seen whales in books – so I didn't really know what to expect from these mammal masters of the deep. Any sea trip has an air of mystery and there was no guarantee that I’d see anything at all - so I kept my expectations purposefully in check.

Special Tours use a specially constructed Whale Watching boat – Rósin, which has a 33knot top speed and cruising speed of around 24knots. Speed is a critical factor to consider when choosing which Whale Watching tour company operating out of Reykjavik harbour to select. All the different companies work together once they’re at sea, sharing the position of whale sightings with each other. However a faster boat allows Special Tours passengers to reach some of the furthest whale grounds – and most importantly - once whales are actually sighted, to stay with them for the longest period.

Skipper Magnus offered guests clean waterproofs that would keep you warm on even the coldest day, and guide Magnus gave a safety briefing, (…in extreme emergency circumstances, the coffee machine is situated here…) before we set off.

It took perhaps 30 minutes to reach the main whale sighting areas and then for around 20 minutes Magnus and Magnus were on top of the cabin with their binoculars scanning the horizon for any activity. Every 10 minutes the skipper would call the other Whale Watching tour boats to check for any new sighting positions.

Whale Watching in Iceland

Then we saw a Minke whale – more common, but a sighting. Perhaps some 20 metres from the boat. Often called ‘Stinky Minke’ on account of the bad odour as they vent, we weren’t close enough to smell anything untoward. And then we sighted the rarer and much more majestic Humpback Whale. In fact 2 of them! Surrounded by dolphins. 

Whale Watching in Iceland

Why is it that seeing dolphins raises everyone’s spirits so much?

The Humpbacks were close to the boat. At times within 30-40 metres. Their telltale fins, with white underside were fantastic to see. Talking to Magnus the guide it was strange to realise how little we actually know about these giants of the deep. How long they live, how far they travel, family sizes etc. are unanswered questions. All of which makes seeing elusive Humpbacks at close quarters even more amazing.

While we were tracking the whales it was soon time for the slower boats to return to port – thankful that they’d had a sighting in the limited time available. However for us and the crew of Rósin, we could dwell for another 30 minutes tracking the Humpbacks, before we too had to head back – at speed - to port.

On our return it was sobering to see the harpoon boats of commercial whaling operators moored alongside the Whale watching boats. Iceland still has a small, active whaling industry and whale meat is available on restaurant menus. Typically Minke, it’s more often provided as an option for tourists, as whale meat consumption is in general decline in Iceland - with the majority exported to Japan. Though the tour wasn’t intended to have a strong ecological message, having seen whales at close quarters, you do hope that they thrive. As with many endangered species, one hopes that the economy of ecology finds it’s place to preserve and protect these majestic mammals, without them simply being hunted to extinction as a luxury food for richer, less caring nations.


TopTip - Check the speed of the boat before you book. Longer tours in slow boats are just long! Better a shorter tour in a fast boat – or best of all, a long tour in a fast boat!


UHOTW went Whale watching with Special Tours who arrange pick up from all the major hotels around Reykjavik. They run a number of water based excursions, including a Puffin Tour to some of the largest Puffin nesting colonies.

Contact them on +354 777 0088  www.specialtours.is

UHOTW travelled to Iceland thanks to Icelandair. Easy direct flights from the UK - and great value too!

- www.icelandair.is


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