Whales and nature in Faxaflói (Iceland)
Iceland, home to steaming volcanoes, massive glaciers, hot springs, lava fields, and narrow steeped bays. The land of fire and ice is the least of places you could expect to find wildlife, and yet wildlife thrives perfectly in these extreme conditions. What is its secret? Cold and warm currents blend in the majestic fjords such as the Faxaflói, offering a suitable environment for zooplankton and algae to grow and fish of various species to flourish. Whales love it here; there is plenty of food to feed on and vast amounts of isolated waters to breed. This piece will explore the types of whales, dolphins, and birds you could get to see in Iceland on ship sails in Faxaflói. Buckle up!
Common species of whales in Iceland
There are up to a whopping 24 species of whales off Iceland’s coast. If you are lucky, you will spot the following common whales in your whale watching tour.
1. The Minke whale
They are black, grey, or purple. You will recognize them by their white-banded flippers. They are quite shy; they love their own company and will generally get away from boats. They are the most common type spotted by tourists due to their great numbers in Iceland’s waters. The best time to spot them is during the summers.
2. Humpback whale
The humpback whales are perhaps the strong swimmers on Earth. The journey from warm tropical waters in the southern hemispheres to the northern latitudes’ cold seas, one of the longest migrations. They are easy to spot because they are the most active; they breach more often than other whales. As you would have guessed, they got their name from the distinctive hump in front of their dorsal fin that is very visible when they dive.
3. Blue whale
Blue whales are the largest mammals on Earth. They are also the loudest; keep your ears alert for a thunderous breach, and there it goes, a magnificent blue whale will be on the horizon. They look blue-grey on the surface. They do not frequently appear in Iceland’s ocean waters. Therefore, it is a great honor to spot them, and thanks to their gigantic bodies, they will be clear on camera.
4. The bowhead whales
The bowhead whales are arguably the laziest whales you will find. They, however, rarely visit the Faxaflói bay. They have wide, and round bodies, and they hate to be rushed. To spot them in your tour, check out for whales that swim slowly and have an arched jaw. If you are lucky enough, you may see them in their element; breaking the ice with their heads so that they can surface.
5. Sperm whale
You will see the sperm whale in summer or spring on the west coast of Iceland since they generally hunt in deep waters. This is the largest toothed whale measuring an average length of 11 to 16 meters. They are named after the spermaceti, a waxy substance found on their heads. They are excellent divers; they can hold their breath for an impressive 2 hours!
6. Beluga whale
The beluga whale is bright white, and hence you will easily pick it out in the icy blue open waters. If you check out their wide-open mouth, you will catch a glimpse of uniform conical teeth in straight rows. If you want to spot them, visit the Beluga Whale Sanctuary in South Iceland. Catch them migrating south in winter as the ice starts to form in the Arctic.
Dolphins in Iceland
The most common dolphin species in Iceland is the white-beaked dolphin. These dolphins weigh an average of 180 to 350 kg and could span 2 to 3 meters long. They are very social, and they travel in groups. Chances are, they will cozy up to your boat and let you feed them. In that case, you can carry treats with you, such as small dried tuna fish, to draw them closer as you take photos.
2. The Orcas
These are the largest species of dolphins, massive in size and playful making them fun to watch. You can easily spot them off the coast of Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland.
Poroises are aquatic marine mammals similar in appearance to dolphins. They are more common than dolphins in Iceland, and you can use their smaller body mass to identify them. They would race along the water surface and jump in the air, a glorious sight to behold when feeding.
The grey seals and the harbor seals are the two typical seal colonies in Iceland. Sail off the coast near Reykjavik, and you will get to see them poke out their heads. Visit the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and see them frolicking in the water. They are curious and not shy at all, and therefore they make for great photos with all their timely poses.
Birds in Iceland
Puffins are the most common bird species in Iceland to the extent that they form the country’s unofficial emblem. Up to 4 million pairs of these colored beaks and feet birds will come to nest on Icelandic coastlines every year. To see them in their numbers, plan your sail ship tours between May and August. You can as well hike as you watch them. Other common seabirds you will see are the gannets, razorbills, gulls, guillemots, and kittiwakes.
Whale watching tips in Iceland
Whale watching is the most popular activity in Iceland’s ocean waters. Watching excursions begin on ship sails from Keflavik, the biggest town on Reykjanes (a volcanic peninsula in South Iceland), which is only about 5 minutes from the Leifsstöð or kef airport. The Voga Sea Tours offers some of the best whale-watching experiences all year round. You should dress warmly on such tours because the cold weather could be pretty harsh, especially for non-locals.
It is recommended that you take the following items with you;
- Thermal socks
- Hats, gloves, and scarfs
- A good camera apart from your phone
- Good sturdy shoes
- Wool jumpers
While whale watching in Iceland, take the safety precautions given by tour operators seriously. It could be quite dangerous at sea. If weather conditions aren’t favorable, excursions may be canceled. There is no cause to worry; you may be able to reschedule and fit in other fun activities as you wait.