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Get to Know the Dolphins in Iceland

Iceland’s Intelligent and Playful Mammals

|August 24, 2023
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Living in the waters surrounding the land of fire and ice are some of nature's most enchanting creatures – dolphins. These charismatic marine mammals grace Iceland's seas with their presence, turning the vast ocean into their very own aquatic playground.

It's time you got to know the wonderful dolphins of Iceland. These intelligent and social creatures have a profound impact on marine life in Icelandic waters. Their impressive hunting skills, playful nature, and social characteristics demand the attention of crowds on boat trips in Iceland.

From where to see them to their unique marine features, we've broken down everything about the most common dolphins in Icelandic waters.

White-Beaked Dolphins

Two white-beaked dolphins jumping out on the water in Iceland

Life Span: 25 years

Prey: Small fish

The most common dolphin to spot in the waters across Iceland is the white-beaked dolphin, with an estimated 30,000 of them in the area. As its name suggests, this species is most noticeable for its white beak. Its upper body is dark gray with patches and stripes of a lighter color. Behind its dorsal fin, it has a larger white patch that looks similar to a saddle.

White-beaked dolphins are playful creatures and tend to swim close to the surface, breaching and leaping out of the water. You’ll often see them initiating play with each other, other whales, and even boats. Their agile size and powerful bodies mean they are speedy swimmers. In fact, they are believed to swim at speeds of up to 25 mph. They tend to travel and live in social groups of the same age and sex.

They can be found all year round in the waters surrounding Iceland and feed on a diet of mostly cod, haddock, and herring, which are abundant on the shores of Iceland.

Orca Whales

Orca breaching the calm waters in Iceland

Life Span:  50 years

Prey: Squid, fish, seals and whales

These infamous skilled hunters are no strangers to the waters that surround Iceland. Lurking for seals and other prey, orcas are instantly recognizable for their striking jet-black and white coloration. From afar, the males can be spotted by their long dorsal fin – the longest dorsal fin of any marine animal. Seeing these dolphins up close in Iceland is a dream for any visitor.

Frequently called 'killer whales' for their ability to hunt down much larger prey, orcas are extremely clever and well-practiced in the art of hunting. They travel in groups (pods) of between 5-30 individuals and are capable of swimming at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. However, this ability to swim for long periods at high speeds makes it increasingly challenging to see them in the wild.

In Iceland, Orcas are mostly spotted in the northeast in Olafsvik Bay, a couple of hours from the capital. However, there is a chance to see them all across Iceland if you are lucky.

Pilot Whales

Pod of Pilot whales swimming through dark waters in Iceland

Life Span: 40 years

Prey: Squid and fish 

Another dolphin with "whale" in its name and/or nickname, the pilot whale, is a frequently seen marine mammal in the waters of Iceland. Similar to orcas, pilot whales have black coloration with fewer and rarer white patches. Their heads are round with a slightly protruding forehead, making them easily distinguishable from other species.

Pilot whales are known for their tight-knit family bonds and are often seen traveling in these groups. Due to their social nature, they've developed a distinctive way of communicating. Their clicks and whistles create a complex language system.

Pilot whales are frequently spotted on whale-watching tours across Iceland. They are playful and love breaching the water's surface. However, they are also incredible divers with the ability to deep-dive to several hundred meters. At these depths, they catch squid, which makes them an interesting and unique dolphin species.


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