For many, seeing majestic whales in their natural habitat is an experience to remember for a lifetime. If you're thinking of planning a trip to see cetaceans up close you don't have to go all the way to Vancouver Island or Maui – one of the best places to see whales worldwide is right here in Europe. Read on for everything you need to know about whale watching in Husavik, northern Iceland.
Whales are a way of life in Iceland
The fact that in Icelandic the word for 'beached whale'– hvalreki – is the same as that for 'jackpot' or 'windfall' may give you some clue as to how these seaborne beasts are seen by the locals. You may well see whale on the menu in Iceland’s restaurants – after all, they are central to the Icelandic way of life. But thanks to a temporary moratorium on whaling back in the enlightened nineties, whalers were forced to seek alternative sources of income and at that point the whale-watching industry was born.
The moratorium was lifted in 2006, but stocks remain high – and consequently so do sightings. Head out to sea and across Skjalfandi Bay from Husavik on the island’s north coast for a potential sighting. Thanks to experienced local guides who know every inch of this blustery bay, your opportunities of seeing at least one gentle giant are quite good.
A whale watching boat catches up with a humpback © Luiia K/Shutterstock
Spot different whale species
Unlike many other countries, Iceland plays host to numerous different species of whale, which makes scanning the waterline much more interesting. The species you’re most likely to see is the (relatively) small minke whale, which favours shallow waters near the coast. Minkes are very inquisitive, often bringing their heads out of the water to watch boats pass.
The massive blue whale (the largest animal on Earth), vast fin whale (the second largest), square-headed sperm whale and the black and white killer whale are also sighted here. The biggest creature you’ll likely spot is the humpback whale. Humpback whales are famous for their entertaining behaviour and lively acrobatics. They are the species most likely to breach, leaping out of the water to expose their whole bodies, often up to seventeen metres in length.
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Picturesque Husavik harbour in northern Iceland © Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock
The best time to go whale watching in Husavik
Migratory whales spend their winters in the warmer waters near the equator before travelling north again in spring. This means that you have the best time to spot cetaceans in Husavik is between April and October. The added bonus of the summer months is that standing out on deck is a more pleasant. Shivering on board in an arctic winter wind is likely to take some of the fun out of things.
Husavik’s two main whale-watching operators are Gentle Giants and North Sailing Husavik. Both operate daily from May to September and trips generally last three hours. Temperatures rarely creep above 10°C even in summer, so wrap up warm! You can choose between a RIB boat or a traditional wooden-hulled vessel. The RIB tours tend to be more expensive, but you'll have fewer tourists alongside you.
As if that wasn’t quite enough marine life for one trip, there are also dolphins, puffins and other seabirds in this lively bay. There's more than enough to keep those binoculars busy, and to put a big salty smile on your face as you return to shore for dinner. Just remember to order carefully if you’ve fallen in love with these graceful creatures.