Whale watching is a popular pastime in Iceland and seeing that Iceland is an island we don't have to go far to see the whales. I recently joined a tour by Reykjavík Sailors leaving from Reykjavík harbour. I have lived in Reykjavík my whole life and this is the first time I go whale watching from Reykjavík harbour.
I have gone whale watching on my travels around my country, but I did not have to go that far as there are awesome whale sightings in my backyard, so to speak.
When I was little only on a couple of occasions there were sightings of whales just outside of Reykjavík, but they were so far away that we could barely see them from where we were standing onshore with binoculars. Back then there were no whale watching tours.
Times have changed for sure and I couldn't believe how much fun there is to be had on Faxaflói bay just outside my city ;)
We sailed for 45 minutes in beautiful sunny weather and we, the Icelanders on board the whale watching boat, felt that the breeze was warm - others opted for the warm overalls, which were offered to the passengers. Do bring a hat and gloves just in case as we are out on the open ocean.
Life-jackets are also offered to the passengers - and seasickness tablets if needed. If you prefer to stay inside there are also plenty of heated indoor cabins with Wifi and refreshments for sale.
The captain, Björn Stefánsson, and the marine engineer, Unnar Gylfason (the cute guys in my photo above ;)) asked me in to show me a video of a humpback whale breaching, which Unnar had shot earlier on that same day. I crossed my fingers that we would see the same sight, as it has been a dream of mine for years to see a humpback whale breaching (jumping).
We were in luck on the afternoon tour as we saw plenty of minke whales, dolphins and humpback whales - and even a humpback whale breaching :) It happened so suddenly that I didn't catch it on camera, but I got a clear mental image of it in my mind, which I will cherish forever. I felt ecstatic - it was a truly magnificent sight!
Humpback whales are often called the most entertaining whales, as they are very curious animals. You can see them swimming straight up to the boats as they seem to want to check us out as much as we want to check them out ;)
You can see in my video below how close they are to the whale watching boat.
These huge creatures just float and splash their fins like they are waving at us - it is really heartwarming watching them so close up. They sometimes make a move which is called spy-hopping and you will see what I mean when you go whale watching yourself.
Three other whale watching boats were cruising in the best whale watching areas and we all watched these majestic sea creatures together in awe. Everybody is a friend here in Iceland and the captains of the boats talked on the radio between themselves and informed the others of sightings of whales. We saw fins waving at us, watched them blowing and fluking - that is when they waive their tale and dive.
The fluke is like a human fingerprint - each and every whale has got a different fluke - do try to take a photo of it to see how many different types of flukes there are. The whales dive for ca 6 minutes and then you know that the "show" is over for the time being - so it is time to watch out for another whale doing acrobatics.
Characteristic of the humpback whales, apart from their fluke and huge pectoral fins (one-third of the length of the whole whale), are the lumps of tubercles on their head and flippers. Can you believe that inside the tubercles is one stiff hair - from the time when these huge creatures seem to have had fur!
The marine guide on watch will tell you where to look by using the hands of the clock, f.ex. 10 o' clock - 12 o' clock etc, which was very useful and helped us spotting the whales. It must be funny watching the passengers on board the whale watching boats when they rush to the areas the marine guide points them towards. We were literally running as we were so excited; I felt like a little kid again :)
Humpback whales are 16-18 metres long and weigh from ca 25-40 tonnes. They are preserved so now they don't fear human beings anymore. Now their main enemy is the killer whale, who is after their baby whale :(
Humpback whales are migrating whales and only visit Iceland in the summer time - here is their feeding ground and here they come to fatten up. In the winter time the humpback whales swim to their mating and calving grounds in the Caribbean and don't eat at all, they just live off the fat they have gathered up north. Fancy that!
We watched the whales for the longest time playing in the ocean until the crew informed us that it was time to grab the fishing rods and catch deep sea fish for dinner. Reykjavík Sailors is the only whale watching company which includes the extra touch of sea-angling, which is why I chose them over other whale watching tours. I had never tried sea-angling before and really wanted to give it a try.
While we were changing course Unnar had a surprise for us and told us to gather around him. He threw out a plough and brought in some sea creatures from the bottom of the ocean. This time around the catch of the day was mainly starfish, which we got to examine.
After examining Unnar's catch we got a fishing rod and got to try our skills in sea-angling. On board the whale watching boat are 20 fishing rods for deep sea fishing, so 20 people can go fishing at the same time on 2 decks. My husband had only caught fish once in his life, so he barely knew how to handle the fishing rod, but the crew showed us how and he quickly got the hang of it.
To his surprise, he caught a cod on the first try. The crew asked if he wanted them to cook it for dinner, which he gladly accepted :)
The freshly caught fish was quickly transformed into fish fillets right there on the deck, where Unnar stood ready with his knife to gut the fish. Fish for sure doesn't get fresher than this.
Everybody was now busy catching fish - it was incredible how many fish we caught, some were even catching two fish at a time as there were 2 hooks on the line.
I also wanted to give it a go, even though I hadn't caught fish since I was a teenager, but back when I was younger I was an avid trout angler, fishing in Lake Þingvallavatn where I stayed for weeks on end in a summer cottage.
In my video below you will see the deep sea fishing on the lower deck. The music being played on board the whale watching boat is solely Icelandic music, which created quite an ambience for us Icelanders, who knew the songs, and I hope the other passengers enjoyed it as well.
You can see that almost everybody was wearing the overalls provided by Reykjavík Sailors.
I went up to the upper deck to try out my luck and in my second cast I caught a small cod but thought it was too small to keep so we let it live and threw it out into the ocean again. Several people allowed their fish to live if they thought they were too small, seeing that we were already catching enough fish for dinner for everybody.
The captain, Björn, helped me with the fish - so don't worry if you don't know how to fish, you will not be on your own. The crew at Reykjavík Sailors consists of experienced trained fishermen and ocean guides, who will help you out. Fishing is after all one of our most important industries and Iceland's main export is fish and fish products.
See the man in the green jacket in my photo above? He was catching fish like there were no tomorrow, most often 2 at the time. It was great fun watching him and his children were thrilled as there was so much action :) When we were about to wrap it up he noticed that he couldn't reel in the line - it was way too heavy!
He had caught a big cod and had to get help from the captain and Unnar the marine engineer to reel it in. I followed them down to the lower deck to photograph this huge cod being reeled in, but just as they were to put it into a net, the huge cod managed to wiggle itself free and fell into the ocean again with a big splash, and only the smaller cod remained on the hook.
You can see the difference in the size of these cods in my photo above. The cod, þorskur in Icelandic, is often called "sá guli" or the yellow one, due to its colour. It can become huge and one of the biggest cods caught by Iceland weighed 54 kilos!
Other marine fish you might expect to catch is halibut, catfish and haddock.
The crew had started to prepare the fish we had caught straight from the ocean and get dinner ready in the indoor cabin of the whale watching boat. While dinner was being prepared we looked out for more whales and that is when I saw the humpback whale breaching!
As I told you earlier then it was the highlight of this tour seeing a humpback whale breach, as I had seen so many magnificent photos, but never managed to see it with my own eyes.
So keep your eyes peeled on the ocean; you never know what you might spot! Also, notice the seabirds around the whale watching boat, you will see seagulls floating on the ocean, fulmars flying right by your face and the adorable puffins flapping their wings like crazy (ever so cute) or sitting idly on the ocean with their colourful beak. I even spotted a seabird I have never seen before, the huge gannet - súla in Icelandic.
The fresh and pristine ocean air had made the passengers work up quite a hunger and everybody complimented the chef for a delicious fish course prepared with the freshest material available.
After dinner we sailed back home to Reykjavík, some made use of the free Wifi on board, but I opted for staying outside. I love the fresh sea air and I wanted to keep my eyes open for possible sightings of whales. What an absolutely beautiful day this had been :)
My photo above is of our concert and conference hall, Harpa, by the harbour, which the whale watching boat sailed by going in and out of the harbour.
The whale watching boat of Reykjavík Sailors leaves from Vesturbugt harbour downtown Reykjavík, just a little bit west of the old Reykjavík harbour. Right next to Vesturbugt harbour you will find 3 very interesting museums, the Saga Museum, Víkin Maritime Museum and Whales of Iceland, which is the largest whale exhibition in Europe - plus a myriad of restaurants and galleries.
Do make the most out of visiting this interesting area of Reykjavík combined with a Whale Watching and Sea Angling tour.
Pickup starts an hour prior to departure, but if you have rented a car then you will find free parking in front of the whale watching boat.
Have a lovely time whale watching and I hope you get to see many whales on your tour :)