Guide to Whale Watching in Iceland

Have you always dreamed of seeing a huge whale soar out of the ocean? We’ve seen our fair share of whale breaches over the years, and they never disappoint!

Whale watching is one of the most thrilling experiences you can enjoy on your visit to Iceland.

The combination of the unique currents in our oceans and our changeable weather attracts many different types of whales to our waters. 

There are over 20 types of whales, along with sea birds and other mammals, to spot!

And, best of all, you can get a glimpse of these beautiful beasts almost any time of year!

Your Friend in Reykjavik has used years of experience to put together this guide to whale watching in Iceland. Keep scrolling down to find out more!

Start planning your adventure by browsing our range of Iceland whale-watching tours

If you have any questions for us about whale watching in Iceland, please feel free to get in touch.

Whale jumping

Whale Watching in Iceland: What Whales Can I See?

The cold currents from the Arctic and the warm currents from the North Atlantic meet and swirl off the Icelandic coasts creating an ideal habitat for krill and fish. 

And it just so happens that many whales love eating krill and fish! 

So, some travel thousands of miles to feed here, creating ideal opportunities for whale watching!

Generally, there are two main types of whales – toothed and baleen. Toothed whales, well, have teeth and tend to hunt fish and other sea creatures to eat.

Baleen whales have sheets of baleen, like hairs, that they use to filter mouthfuls of seawater for krill, fish, algae, and plankton for their food.

And this may be a little confusing, but – dolphins are a type of toothed whale. It’s just that not all whales are dolphins. 

Also, porpoises are not dolphins, and vice versa. Blame it on biologists! Still, they are all fantastic creatures to watch carrying on in the water!

You can learn even more about the species in our waters by visiting the Whales of Iceland Exhibition.

Here are a few of the 20-something whale species you might encounter here in Iceland.

Minke Whales

Minke Whale

Minke whales are among the smallest baleen whales and the species you’re most likely to see in Iceland. 

Small is relative, as they can grow up to 32ft (10m) long and weigh around 7 tons. 

They tend to travel alone or in groups of twos or threes, and boats often spark their curiosity. 

If you’re lucky you’ll see one leap out and crash down on the water! People have spotted minke whales all year round across Iceland, including Reykjavik.


Orca whales in Iceland

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are the largest of dolphins (see our note above about the whole dolphin/whale overlap!)

Male orcas can reach up to 32ft (10m) long and weigh around 10 tons. The females are almost as large. 

Orcas usually travel in groups of two to nine and hunt in packs. Around 5,000 orcas are known to live in the waters of Iceland all year long. 

There is a better chance of spotting them feeding among the herring grounds in the East Fjords and the South Coast.

Harbor Porpoises

Harbor porpoises are some of the smallest marine mammals around and one of only seven types of porpoises (remember, they aren’t dolphins!) in the world. 

They only grow up to around 60in (160cm) long and can weigh about 132 lbs. The females are typically larger than the males. 

You might see small groups, but they also gather in larger numbers when migrating. 

In Iceland, you have a chance of seeing these creatures all year round.

Humpback Whales

Humpbacks are baleen whales and are among the largest of all whale species.

Females grow up to 59ft (18m) long and can weigh as much as 40 tons. Males are usually just a bit smaller. 

They are known for their winglike pectoral fins that they may use to slap the water, along with their tales. This is always a spectacular show for lucky whale watchers.

Although they were almost hunted to extinction, current populations have grown and there are thousands of humpback whales off Iceland’s shores. 

While it is more likely to see them in summer, they have been spotted during the winter as well.

Our Whale Watching Akureyri tour is an excellent opportunity to see humpback whales in their natural habitat.

White-Beaked Dolphins

White-beaked dolphins are playful creatures that can swim at speeds of up to 25mph (40 kph). 

Sometimes you may see them around the larger baleen whales. 

These curious creatures can grow to approximately 10ft (3m) in length and typically weigh around 770 lbs (350kg).

There are an estimated 30,000 living in Iceland’s waters! Their pods range from a few to almost a hundred. 

And since they stay near the shoreline, there is a good chance of seeing them, especially around Faxaflói Bay in the southwest, where they feed on the fish teeming there.

What Else Might You See When Whale Watching in Iceland?

Seals in Iceland

In addition to the whales listed, you could also catch sight of sperm whales, fin whales, sei whales, or even a blue whale, the largest animal on Earth. 

All of these sightings are more likely during the summer. If you’re whale watching off the northern coastline, you may get lucky and see the elusive narwhal with its unicorn-like tusk! 

Summer is usually the best time as the warmer waters attract many species for breeding and feeding on the flourishing krill and fish population.

But, as mentioned above, there are still those that swim the waters all year round.

Our Reykjavik Whale Watching Tour in the Midnight Sun is one of our most popular summer adventures!

While you are out watching the waters, you should also keep an eye out for seals, such as harbor or grey seals, along the coastlines, including Reykjavik, Svalbarðshreppur, and the Westfjords. 

There is also a good chance you’ll see puffins and arctic terns as well.

Whale watching

Join Your Friend in Reykjavik Whale Watching in Iceland!

Have we inspired you to hit the open ocean in search of these enormous, majestic creatures?

Check out our range of whale-watching tours in Iceland to learn more about the adventures waiting for you here!

And for an even more comprehensive experience, consider our City Walk and Whale-Watching combo tour.

For more information about whale watching in Iceland, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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