From Iceland — Whale Watching: You'll Know When You See It

Whale Watching: You’ll Know When You See It

Published June 30, 2011

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To many, no visit to Iceland is complete without a whale-watching trip. Few places offer a better opportunity to view the largest sea mammals on the planet. While tours out of Húsavík in northern Iceland are reportedly the best, the tours operated out of Reykjavík also provide fine whale watching.

In hopes of seeing the huge cetaceans, The Grapevine headed down to the harbour to catch Elding’s 13:00 tour. Camera in hand, we climbed aboard their red and white boat, which had several floors to accommodate passengers comfortably. After we had been briefed with safety instructions, they gave us equipment and waterproof coats so that we wouldn’t catch a cold.
While some stayed outside on the deck, others preferred to stay inside with a cup of coffee in the cosy cafeteria. We briefly dipped in to check it out and had a nice chat with the friendly waitress who was very knowledgeable about whales.


Then the boat set sail, gradually picking up speed. The air blew fiercely against us as we steered into the waves. An enthusiastic tour guide began telling us about the different types of whales and birds that we could expect to see. The tour guide’s voice travelled throughout the vessel thanks to the strategically located loudspeakers.

She told us about puffins, which are the most common birds in Iceland. There are approximately 10 million of them in and around the country. Vestmannaeyjar, an island off the south coast of mainland Iceland, boasts the largest puffin colony in the world. During the tour we saw one that raced away in front of the boat as we gained on it. While the puffin’s movement seemed dizzy and overwhelming, some of our fellow passengers thought it was endearing. In addition to the puffin, we also spotted and learned about numerous species of birds that migrate from the Arctic to the Antarctica, a 22.000 km journey that takes three months of flying. Amazing!

After fifteen minutes of navigating through the Arctic waters, passengers were filled with admiration over the breathtaking view that surrounded us. When a snow-capped mountain range appeared on the horizon, everyone at once took out their cameras to capture the scene. In the distance, we could also see Esja, the mountain range seen across the harbour from Reykjavík. We could even see the town of Akranes (pop. 6549).

Whale watching by Hvalreki


As we went further out to sea, the guide proceeded to explain the system they use to notify us of a whale sighting. The announcement is made by the cry of an hour. The ship becomes a clock in which the bow is 12 and the stern is 6. The guide also told us to keep our nostrils close, for the whale’s breath is repulsive. So, if during the voyage, someone begins to feel nauseated by a very unpleasant smell, it’s probably not a nearby passenger, but a whale!

However, for the seasick prone, the company also offers special vomit bags. This can definitely come in handy when making attempts at whale-watching in rough seas.

Despite the freezing cold and the fact that there were more whale watching boats around us than whales, some passengers were reluctant to leave the deck. Every single moment contains the possibility of spotting a whale. Regardless of the whales letting us down this time around, we still left the boat with lots of new knowledge about birds, different whales and their stories.


As the boat rocked violently some laughed while others were visibly scared. Then excitement took over when someone yelled suddenly… “5 o’clock!”.  We caught a glance of a large whale. Seeing the dorsal fin made my hair stand on end. There is something really exciting about seeing such large animals in their natural habitat, something that can barely be described. You’ll know when you see it.

Thus, in the end, we acquired new knowledge, a new perspective of the city of Reykjavík and even saw a whale!

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