Welcome to the Special Tours Wildlife Adventures page about whale watching. Here you will find everything you need to know about whale watching and what makes whale watching such an amazing experience and why Iceland is the perfect location to go whale watching.
Iceland is known to possess some of the richest marine habitats worldwide. In general, 23 different species of cetaceans, a high variability of fish and numerous invertebrates can be found all around the coast and within the offshore area. Based on an oceanographic event known as ‘upwelling’, cold and very nutritious water streams from deeper water layers towards the water surface, replacing the warmer, nutrient-depleted water, and therefore supporting aquatic algae growth. Upwelling is a common scenario observed within coastal areas but can also be seen in the open ocean. Having a closer look into these areas, the high availability of various algae species will build the base for the aquatic food-web, presenting a valuable food source for not just smallest crustaceans such as krill, but also smaller fish species. The water rich on food, is a further magnet for numerous marine mammals starting their yearly migration towards the northern areas to feed.
Iceland is home to both resident and migrating species of marine mammals, belonging to the bigger infraorder of cetaceans. Here, we distinguish further into two groups such as toothed whales (Odontocetes) and baleen whales (Mysticetes).
Within the last 200 years of observations, 15 toothed whale species, and 8 baleen whales have been recorded around Iceland.
As already mentioned, some of these species, including white-beaked dolphins, killer whales and harbour porpoises to name some, being perfectly adapted to cold water temperatures, and can therefore be seen year-round the Icelandic coast. Some other species such as blue whales and humpback whales are known to take on a yearly migration during winter season, traveling towards their birthing grounds in warmer aquatic areas.
Nevertheless, exceptions are possible and usually migrating individuals have been also observed over the winter time, indicating once more the unpredictability of wild animals. Lots of marine areas around Iceland are marine protected areas, providing conservation measurements for these animals and making whale watching even more enjoyable all year around in Iceland.
Main calf season for most of the species is in spring time, when the sunlight starts to warm up the water surface and the algae starts blooming – a fast and important chain reaction will kick in, which will provide all mother individuals with enough food to support and feed their youngsters.
However, since most whale species show distinct behavioural patterns, presence and habitat utilization will also differ. Whilst some species prefer shallow, coastal waters, others will be rather be found within the deeper ocean. Since Iceland offers a varying extent of marine ecosystems, going on a whale watching tour can be a real adventure as tours will differ dependent on the area you choose and therefore different species are likely to observe.
Looking at the landscape around the whale watching areas, you can find all different types that will make your whale watching tour even more diverse and interesting. Some whale watching areas are surrounded by large mountains and fjords, whilst some other areas are rather wide bays giving everyone on board the possibility to look far into the distance and enjoy the vastness of the ocean. Depending on the time of year, surrounding mountains can be covered in snow, lit by beautiful winter sunlight, or in summer midnight sun will dip the mountain peaks in an incredible fire red – either way going on a whale watching tour in Iceland, is great fun for everyone and will be an unforgettable experience.
When travelling in Iceland you need to keep in mind to always pack some warm and waterproof clothing and good sturdy shoes should always be your preferred choice when it comes to footwear. The same applies to whale watching. Bring warm and waterproof clothing, wearing many layers is always good as you can move around the boat and stay as much inside or outside on the viewing decks as you like. Hats and gloves are also a mandatory equipment to bring along as well as your camera. For your comfort Special Tours provide warm overalls free of charge, usually located on the lower decks of the boats. Find out more about what to wear on a whale watching tour here.
In Faxaflói Bay, there are 4 species of cetaceans which are most commonly seen throughout the year: minke whales, white-beaked dolphins, harbour porpoises, and humpback whales. Because we are sailing into a natural area, our sightings can vary between tours, days, and seasons.
Minke whales can grow to be 7–10 m (23–33 ft) in length, and can weigh 10 metric tons (11 US tons). They are the most commonly seen baleen whale species in Faxaflói Bay, and we generally see them in warmer months before they migrate away from Iceland. Where they migrate to is still a mystery to us, but one tagged minke whale went south to the Canary Islands in winter! They usually come to the surface 3-5 times in a row before arching their back for a deep dive, which lasts about 5 minutes on average, but can be longer. They feed mainly on small silver fish called sand eels, or sand lances.
White-beaked dolphins can grow to be 2.5–3 m (8.2–10 ft) in length, and can weigh 350 kg (770 lbs). They are a cold-water toothed whale species seen throughout the North Atlantic Ocean. We usually see them in pods of 3-6 individuals, but they can gather into “superpods” of hundreds or even thousands of dolphins in the open ocean! They can be very curious around boats, going up to them to swim around them and check them out. They are the most active species we see here, often leaping and breaching out of the water. They feed mainly on large fish like Atlantic cod and haddock, but can also feed on other fish, crustaceans, and squid.
Harbour porpoises can grow to be 1.5–2 m (5–6.5 ft) in length, and can weigh 70 kg (155 lbs). They are the smallest cetacean in the North Atlantic Ocean, and they are toothed whales like the white-beaked dolphin. They are small and fast, so sightings of them tend to be brief. Porpoises are usually seen in pods, and they feed mainly on small squid. A harbour porpoise can eat up to 10% of its own body weight every day!
Humpback whales can grow to be 13–17 m (43–56 ft) in length, and can weigh 40 metric tons (44 US tons). These baleen whales are the largest that we can see in Faxaflói, and are well-known for their acrobatics and their songs. Humpback whales have been seen worldwide, and many of them migrate south towards warmer waters in the winter. Humpbacks lift their tails when taking deep dives, to help push them underwater. Underneath their tail is a pattern of black and white, unique to each individual whale, which can be used for photo identification. They feed mainly on small fish called capelin.
The crew on your whale watching tour with Special Tours will be constantly searching for wildlife during the journey into the feeding grounds of the whales. Special Tours is strongly committed to responsible whale watching. The crew follows a Code of Conduct to watch the animals safely and never use sonar to search for them.
On the tours the crew keeps a loo out for the “3 Bs”: Bodies, Blows, and Birds. The long, dark curved backs of whales, or the dorsal fins of dolphins and porpoises, are unmistakeable. They can also be spotted occasionally when the animal breaches, or jumps out of the water. Blows are the breath of a whale, and look like a puff of steam or geyser rising from the water’s surface. Finally, large flocks of feeding seabirds indicate there is plenty of food for the whales around. If you spot one of the 3 Bs, please alert the crew!
When your guide points out wildlife and other interesting things around us, they will use the clock system. Imagine that the boat is a giant clock: the front is 12 o’clock, the right side is 3 o’clock, the back is 6 o’clock, and the left side is 9 o’clock. Note that your guide may use times in between as well, such as 4 o’clock, or 10:30. o´clock for an example.
Iceland is one of the best places in the world for you to have a close encounter with wonderful whales, darting dolphins and playful porpoises.
Special Tours offers you a range of year-round options to sail straight from the Old Harbor in downtown Reykjavík into Faxaflói Bay to see these gorgeous creatures in their natural environment.
There are as many as 23 species of whales to be found off the shores of Iceland, with Humpbacks and Minke whales being the most frequently spotted cetaceans, alongside Fin, Sei, and Killer whales and the immense Blue whale too, the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth.
A Special Tours Whale Watching tour whisks you swiftly from the meeting point at our Ticket Office in the Old Harbor into the company of these charismatic creatures – blowhole-spraying, breaching and fin-waving Humpback and Minke whales, White-beaked dolphins and Harbor porpoises – and basking seals and clownishly cute puffins too, in the warmer months.
Special Tours were one of the pioneers of offering adventures at sea in Iceland and our sturdy, safe and family-friendly ships with comfortable interiors and multiple viewing decks are always crewed by expert guides with years of experience and filled with fun facts about these marvelous mammals.
We’re focused on giving you the greatest adventure and a memorable experience, while also respecting the environment and abiding by the special code of conduct that ensures the minimum of disturbance to the animals when we approach them.
If whales are not spotted on your trip, Special Tours offers you a voucher for another chance to sail again, as often as you like. As with the Northern Lights tours, every Whale Watching trip is subject to the unpredictable Icelandic weather, and sailings may be postponed if the conditions are not favorable.
“Guarantee your chance to gaze in wonder at the gentle giants of the sea by adding a ticket for the stunning Whales of Iceland exhibition to your Special Tours Whale Watching trip.”
The perfect solution is to add a ticket to the stunning Whales of Iceland Exhibition to your Special Tours Whale Watching trip, giving you access to this amazing attraction close by in the Grandi district, which provides a home for impressive life-size silica models of all the cetacean visitors that frequent Icelandic waters.
Whales of Iceland is the largest exhibition of its type in Europe, an incredible collection of enormous man-made hand-painted replicas of individual whales that really help you to understand the sheer size of these underwater leviathans.
It’s possible to touch the soft and squishy surface of the whale models on display here too, while whale skeletons are also on display.
Virtual Reality glasses also give you the magical experience of feeling like you are actually in the sea with the giants of the ocean swimming serenely all around you.
Walk underneath a blue whale, marvel at its size, hear its song, and watch underwater footage of whales on an 8-meter-wide screen, while learning about the unwanted impact of military sonar activity and oil exploration on these noble marine mammals.
There’s a well-paced audio guide included with admission and the interactive tablet displays are very informative too, giving fascinating facts and figures about every single species to be found here.
If the weather outside is a little Icelandic, then you are welcome to rest and relax in the café area, listen to dreamy whale songs and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and a pastry.
Book your Whale Watching Tour + Whales of Iceland ticket from Reykjavik with Special Tours now, to guarantee seeing these gentle giants from land and sea!