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Orcas in Iceland: When and Where to See Them

|April 27, 2023
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Iceland is a true paradise for whale lovers. With over 20 species living in the waters around the country, it's no wonder seeing a whale is at the top of many visitors' bucket lists. Among the most popular are orcas, or killer whales. Although these animals aren't whales, they are often referred to as killer whales because of their impressive hunting skills. This has made seeing orcas in Iceland a highly sought-after activity.


The popularity is expected, as Iceland is one of the few places in the world where you can see them in their natural habitat all year round. So, whether you're planning a trip to Iceland or want to learn more about these animals' lives here, we’ve got the information you need.

About Orcas in Iceland

The orcas found in Iceland are part of two types - resident and transient. The resident orcas are a permanent fixture in Icelandic waters, with around 5,000 individuals. They primarily feed on herring, which is abundant in the area. As for transient orcas, they're more migratory and tend to hunt for marine life, such as squid, seals, and even other whales. These orcas travel throughout the year and are sighted in places as far as Scotland and Norway.

6 dorsal fins from a pod of Orcas poking out of the water off the coast of Iceland

Orcas are incredibly social animals with fascinating social structures. They prefer to stay in family groups called pods, where the females usually take charge and males only leave during mating season.

When is the Best Time to See Orcas in Iceland?

Although orcas can be spotted in Icelandic waters all year round, it's good to keep in mind that these are wild animals and there's no guarantee of a sighting. The best time to see them is during the winter and early spring months when the fjords are teeming with herring, which brings them closer to land. 

While it's possible to spot orcas from the shore, booking a boat tour is highly recommended for the best view of these magnificent creatures. Whale-watching tours offer a chance to witness marine animals up close in their natural habitat.

An orca, also known as a killer whale, breaches the water's surface

Where is the Best Place to See Orcas in Iceland?

Only a few places on Earth offer the opportunity to see orcas, and Iceland is one of them. To optimize your chance of seeing these wonderful creatures, head to the northern coasts, where the fjord provides rich feeding grounds for orcas. Here, we go through some of the hotspots for orcas and how you can see them.

Reykjavík

If you are visiting the city and want to see the orca, you can book a boat trip from Reykjavík. The waters here are brimming with wildlife from seabirds to whales, and although not the most common, there is a chance that you could be seeing orcas in their natural habitat.

Whale-watching tour in Reykjavik, Iceland

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Known for its black sand beaches and incredible landscapes, this peninsula on the northwest coast of Iceland is famous for sighting orcas. North of Reykjavík, there are boat trips from Ólafsvík or Grundarfjörður.

Húsavík

Húsavík is known as the whale capital of Iceland. If you are looking to learn more about Iceland’s waters, then this spot is for you. Húsavík is on the north coast in a small bay. This idyllic town offers some of the best whale watching and even a whale museum, which features exhibits of these creatures and their importance in Icelandic culture. After you’ve visited Húsavík, head around to Dalvík to enjoy an express rib tour, which has an almost 100% success rate of finding whales and dolphins.

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