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Hoping to see a humpback whale in Iceland? We’ve compiled everything you’ll need to know so you can maximize your chances. Find out more.
Humpbacks are one of the most recognizable whales in our oceans. Their long pectoral fins and unique flukes make it easy to distinguish them from the rest of their species. Their bodies are black with a white patterned underside; each individual has their own distinctive composition like humans and fingerprints. The bumps and bobbles on humpback skin are barnacles, just like you would find on the bottom of a boat.
These incredible mammals, which migrate thousands of miles every year, are often seen breaching the water's surface and turning elegantly in the air. It is no wonder that so many visitors to Iceland hope to see these intelligent, playful giants.
Humpback whale raising its fluke out of the water with Iceland’s mountains in the background
About Humpback Whales in Iceland
Iceland is a special place for humpback whales as it is home to the largest population of the species in the world. Approximately 15,000 humpback whales live, eat and migrate to the cold waters of Iceland. Usually traveling around the island alone, humpbacks hunt for small prey such as krill and fish which are abundant here. They are classed as Baleen whales due to the fibrous plates in their mouths, which instead of teeth, help them catch a large amount of small fish and filter out the water.
Humpback whale spraying water in the deep ocean
Humpbacks are one of the most common species to spot when whale watching in Iceland due to their playfulness and habits of coming close to shore. Throughout the winter, the majority of them move to warmer waters, including the Caribbean. Some are known to spend the winter in Icelandic waters, though. Offshore and inland in Iceland, humpback whales are common. They can often be seen tail slapping, jumping and sometimes feeding just off the coast. Their blow (spout) can reach up to 3m, which helps them be seen from afar.
When to See Humpback Whales in Iceland
The best time to see humpback whales in Iceland is from May to September, during their feeding season. The whales feed primarily on krill, herring, and other small fish in the abundant waters. From June to August, the weather in Iceland is generally mild and the days are longer, making it a popular time to whale watch.
Humpback whales are well-known for their long-distance migration patterns, which impact the best times to see them. Their migration takes them from their summer feeding grounds in cooler waters, such as around Iceland, to their winter breeding grounds in warmer southern waters, such as around the Gulf of Mexico. The journey between these two locations can take around a month to complete, and humpbacks typically undertake this migration annually.
A humpback whale jumped out of water in the Icelandic sea
However, some humpbacks are known to stay in Iceland and miss the migration season, leaving visitors with the possibility of seeing them all year round. Make sure to book onto on of our incredible day tours to maximise your chances!
Where to See Humpback Whales in Iceland
The best place to see humpback whales in Iceland is along the northern and western coasts, particularly in the waters surrounding the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the Westfjords, and the Eyjafjordur fjord. These areas offer rich feeding grounds for humpback whales, and visitors to Iceland during the summer months may be lucky enough to see them on whale-watching tours or from the shore.
Whale watching from Reykjavík is a popular, easy-to-organize activity with many boat tours departing from here. In Faxaflói Bay, which is a short distance from the city, there is an array of marine life in their natural habitat. Humpbacks are one of the most frequently seen here. Departing from the harbor in Reykjavik, rib boat tours offer an up close and unique experience.
A humpback whale's long white pectoral breaching the water with the green Icelandic coastline in the background
Húsavík, situated on the serene north coast of Iceland, is famously referred to as the whale capital of the country. For those keen to delve deeper into the wonders of Iceland's waters, Húsavík is an unmissable destination. Nestled in a tranquil bay, this town boasts some of the most spectacular whale-watching opportunities in the country. Visitors can also pay a visit to the esteemed whale museum, which showcases the significant role these gentle giants play in Icelandic culture.