The waters around Iceland are filled with some of the most interesting marine life in the world and during our calls to Húsavík, we offer an included whale watching excursion that often sees our guests come eye-to-eye with these majestic giants of the deep. In our blog today, we are learning more about some of the species that you might be lucky enough to spot during the tour, how to identify them and what behavioural characteristics they are commonly known for.
Nestled on the edge of Shaky Bay, the town of Húsavík is globally recognised as one of the best locations in the world to watch whales. Indeed, due to its wide-open bay and rich marine life, there is a higher chance of spotting these incredible marine mammals in Húsavík than anywhere else in Iceland.
Our tour starts with a visit to the Húsavík Whale Museum, allowing a chance to learn a little more on the history, biology and habitat of these remarkable creatures. This popular non-profit attraction opened in 1997 as a trial exhibition, but has since been transferred to a permanent location inside an old slaughterhouse, providing 1,600 square metres of space for its displays, including the complete skeletons of several species of whale.
Leaving the museum behind, we join our boat and head out into Skjálfandi Bay to see what we can spot. The most commonly sighted whales here during the summer months are the Humpback and Minke whales. Of course, other whales, such as Orca, Sperm and Pilot are also found in these waters, but they are a little more elusive. Harbour Porpoise and White Beaked Dolphins are also regular visitors to these waters and for the bird lovers among us, you should keep your binoculars handy as Puffin, Arctic Tern (which can be very aggressive), Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Long Tailed Duck, Arctic Skua, Fulmar, Great Cormorant and Kittiwake are just some of the birds you might spot.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these intriguing and highly intelligent creatures…
Size: up to 10 metres | Weight: up to 8 tonnes | Speed: up to 34 km/hour
Compared to other species, Minke whales are relatively small, but they are the most common found in Icelandic waters. They are quite shy and often travel alone or in small pods of only 2 or 3 animals. They have a white band on each flipper and the body is a dark grey colour.
Size: up to 17 metres | Weight: up to 30 tonnes | Speed: 27 km/hour
Humpback Whales are a common sight in Icelandic waters, especially during the summer months and they are the most acrobatic of the whale species. It’s not uncommon to see them slapping their tales, waving their fins, breaching or even spyhopping (when they raise their head out of the water to have a look around). They are a very playful species and you could be in for one of the greatest shows on earth if you come across a Humpback during your whale watching tour.
Size: up to 3 metres | Weight: up to 180-300 kg | Speed: 20 km/hour
These dolphins live in pods of up to 100 animals and are commonly seen year-round in Iceland. They love to have fun and you’ll often find them bow-riding and playing at the surface of the water. They are easily identified because of their short, thick beak and curved dorsal fin. Iceland is actually one of only a few places where you can see this species of dolphin as they are only found in the North Atlantic, Barents Sea and North Sea.
Size: up to 8 metres | Weight: up to 8 tonnes | Speed: up to 50 km/hour
Orca, also known as Killer Whales, are not as easy to find as many other species – they don’t tend to stay in the same place for very long – but if you do happen to come across them on your trip, you can count yourself very lucky indeed. They usually live in large groups, so it’s likely if one is spotted, another will soon follow. A male Orca has a dorsal fin that can grow to as tall as 1.8metres. Incredible. The most famous Orca in the world was Keiko, the star of the 1993 movie ‘Free Willy’. He was captured in Icelandic waters in 1979 and released back into the wild in 1998. Sadly, he died soon after his release as he pined for human attention and interaction.
Size: up to 2 metres | Weight: up to 70 kg | Speed: 23 km/hour
Harbour Porpoise are incredibly shy and the smallest of cetaceans. They are usually only spotted by a non-trained eye when sea conditions are very calm and even then, they only tend to appear at the surface for a short period of time. They have a triangular dorsal fin and a small rounded head and when surfacing to breathe, they tend to make a puffing type sound. Although they can be a rare sighting, you have more chance of spotting them during the summer months.
In 2018, Aegean Odyssey features sailings to Iceland in July and August. Both cruises sail to/from UK ports, making them ideal no-fly options for our UK guests. Aegean Odyssey’s July 2018 sailing will also offer something new and very special, as she sails into the heart of London for disembarkation at Tower Bridge – a berth reserved for only the smallest of cruise ships.