Alison MacNeil

Alison is a musician, writer and artist from Canada. She's lived in Reykjavik since 1999. 

5 minute read09 Jun 2017

Watching the Whales Go Round and Round

One of the most popular things to do in Iceland is to take a trip out onto the water and visit the marine life that thrives in the sea around this island country. GetLocal took a trip out onto the ocean to see for themselves and learned a little marine biology along the way.

Leaving Reykjavik

Whale watching and other sea tours operate from various spots around the country, although most of the tours go from the capital of Reykjavik in the south and from Húsavík and Akureyri in the North. We made our way down to the pier to the Reykjavik Sailors office and picked up our tickets. The length of the trip depends on the type of boat and how far from land you’ll be going, but a basic whale watching trip takes approximately four to five hours and this one was no different.

Departure times depend on the time of year (since the length of the available daylight varies over the year) and also on the times of year when the whales are present close to shore. Generally, through the summer, tours will go out to sea early in the morning (around 8AM) and then again in the afternoon (around 1PM).

Marine Biologists Onboard

Almost every tour operator in Iceland has a very knowledgeable staff onboard to answer all of your questions and give a short presentation on the species of whale that can be seen on the trip. Many of the tour guides are oceanographers and marine biologists and it can be a great trip to take with kids if you want to work in some educational entertainment on your family vacation.

We met Jorge on our trip (shown above). He was fluent in several languages and very knowledgeable about the trip. His slides weren’t your run of the mill type of tour pamphlet material. Jorge obviously knew quite a bit about whales that belied his background in marine biology.

Ocean Exploration

It’s important to dress appropriately for the sea (it’s often quite a bit colder out there than it is on land) and life vests are provided for younger passengers by the tour operators. We didn’t see a lot of whales on this trip but we did see a lot of other whale watching vessels. If you don’t see a whale on your trip (which we are told is rare), you can go again the next day.

My children came with me on this trip and got a little seasick, but they gave us some seasickness pastilles and they were right as rain.

Catch Your Own Dinner 

The companies that offer whale watching trips quite often also offer fishing trips and educational trips about the marine life around Iceland. On the fishing trips, you’ll catch your own dinner and barbecue it onboard the vessel, which is quite an incredible experience if you haven’t tried fresh fish out of the ocean before.

Marine Life

The marine life tours will take a sample from the bottom of the ocean and show you all the different creatures that live there, from starfish to shrimp and other amazing animals. Alternatively, you may want to take a trip out to one of the bird sanctuary islands and visit the puffins in their natural habitat.

Whales of Iceland

If you want to enhance your experience of the sea life in Iceland or if you’d prefer to enjoy your whales from the land and skip the ocean voyage altogether, we can recommend the Whales of Iceland exhibit down on the waterfront in the Grandi district of Reykjavik. There you’ll find life-size scale models of all the different species of whale in the seas around Iceland with plenty of interactive displays to learn about these incredible creatures and even a couple of virtual reality headsets that will put you in the display and give you the feeling of swimming with the largest mammals on the planet.

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