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Discover Iceland's Fin Whale

The Greyhound Of The Sea

|August 22, 2023
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Want to learn more about the second largest mammal on Earth? Find out about these majestic and elusive whales and how to see them in Iceland.


A fin whale blowing water into the air

There is no doubt that Iceland’s waters attract species of all kinds. From the puffins who live on the cliffs overlooking the sea, to the tiny krill attracting larger water predators, there is an abundance of life to be found. Among the animals that call Iceland home are the fin whales who come to feed on krill. These giants roam the deep and cool waters of the Atlantic and Pacific, often on the hunt for food.

The fin whale, often referred to as the greyhound of the sea, has captured the interest of scientists and marine biologists for their unusual and secretive life. Find out more about this elusive and interesting species thriving in Iceland’s waters.

About Fin Whales in Iceland

The blowhole of a fin whale on calm flat water

Congregating in Iceland’s icy waters, fin whales are a remarkable species. Fin whales are the second-largest animals on Earth, coming second to the blue whale. The fin whale can grow up to 18 - 27 meters and live for up to 90 years.

Known for their distinct asymmetrical coloring, long bodies, and prominent V-shaped jawline, fin whales are true wanderers. As migratory animals, they embark on long journeys, covering vast distances between feeding and breeding grounds. In the chilly Icelandic waters, they come for the abundance of krill, small fish, and occasional squid to fuel them.

Found alone or in pairs, these giant whales have become well-versed in how to catch their tiny prey. Being baleen whales, which means they have brush-like fibers in their mouth instead of teeth, they are able to catch masses of fish and krill in one gulp. The fin whale uses its powerful tongue to push the water out through its baleen plates, which act as a filter. These flexible plates, made of keratin (the same material found in human hair and fingernails), trap the krill and small fish while the water is expelled.   

For many years, whaling was a part of Icelandic culture and economy, with fin whales being targeted for their valuable meat and blubber. However, as awareness of conservation issues grew, so did the understanding of the importance of protecting these whales and their fragile marine habitat. Today, Iceland has placed regulations on whaling in order to protect this species.

Fin whale mouth dipping under the water while its blowhole is breaching the surface

To see fin whales in Iceland, the best time is during the summer months from June to August. In the warmer and lighter months of the year, Iceland’s bays are filled with krill and small fish, meaning that fin whales will be closer to the surface hunting.  As these whales can dive for long periods, this time of year gives whale-watching tours a greater chance to see these mammals in their natural habitat.

The summer months are also the best time to see other marine animals. Humpback whales and dolphins are best seen on whale-watching tours during this time.

Where is the Best Place to See Fin Whales in Iceland?

If you are hoping for the chance to see fin whales in their home off of Iceland, then here are some of the most frequented areas that they visit. There are plenty of boat tours heading out into these areas.

Faxaflói Bay: On the southwest coast, Faxaflói Bay is a hive of activity. You can find plenty of whale-watching tours from Reykjavik, which overlooks the bay. Tours leave from the harbor and travel a short distance out across the water.

Húsavík: Located in the North of Iceland, Húsavík is known as the whale capital of Iceland as it sees the most amount of whale activity. This is mainly due to its direct access to the Greenland Sea.

Breiðafjörður Bay: A lesser-known gem for whale-watching can be found in the west of Iceland. However, during the summer months, it becomes a popular place to spot fin whales and other marine species.

 

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