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Whales & Other Wildlife You Can See In Iceland

Arctic fox by Maria Cerrudo

Ocean Giants - North Iceland for Whales

The North Coast of Iceland supports a large whale watching economy with very reliable daily sightings of large whales. Skjálfandi Bay is  the most famous and neighbouring Eyjafjörður is another good spot but anywhere along that coast and the NW Fjords is a good bet.  Humpbacks are the most common and are pretty huge with adult females reaching 15-16 metres long. They are pretty acrobatic too, often doing back flips and breeches into the air.

The whale museum in Husavik has a skeleton of a 25 metre Blue Whale that washed up on a beach in North Iceland in 2010 and they do get live blue whale sightings here so you might see the biggest mammal on the planet. Blue and fin whales, the largest baleen whales, only venture into wide and open bays such as Skjálfandi, not narrow fjords like Eyjafjörður.

whale skeleton at Husavik Whale Museum
whale skeleton at Husavik Whale Museum

Try Tecla's voyages from Isafjordur to Akureryi or the return voyage for prime whale watching opportunities

You can also see humpbacks and Minke whales in Reykjavík’s Faxi Bay, but sightings are less frequent.

Try Blue Clipper voyages from Reyjavik to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and back.

Humpback Tail by Tecla guest Maria Cerrudo
Humpback Tail by Tecla guest Maria Cerrudo

Dolphins & Orca in Iceland

Other smaller cetacean species include white beaked dolphins and Minke whales.  Orca (killer whales) do visit Western Iceland but generally only in the winter months. If you want to see them in summer you will need to head deeper into the Arctic Circle on the way to Greenland on Tecla, or perhaps the Blue Clipper voyage to Svalbard or onto Northern Norway.

Iceland - A Bird Watchers Delight

You literally fall over birds in Iceland. Plovers and terns nest in the stoney outwash plains and beaches. If you get to close to arctic terns nests they will dive bomb you. Skuas will dive bomb you just because they are not scared of anything. 

The big cliff for birders is on the Látrabjarg Peninsula in the Westfjords. It is one of Europe’s largest bird cliffs, and a top place to watch puffins, razorbills and other seabirds. If you have the energy to climb to the top,  tame, stoic puffins rest on cliffs up to 440m high. The cliffs stretch for about 14km total, with trails for excellent day hikes. A bonus of being on an ocean going sailing ship is that you can approach the cliffs from underneath too and see the thousands of breeding and feeding birds from a different perspective.

Tecla voyages in the NW fjords can sail south to these cliffs and Blue Clipper Reyjavik round trips may reach Látrabjarg if the weather and wind direction is right.

Bird watching in iceland

Iceland is a Puffin Stronghold

Most puffin encounters require a boat trip. The dome-shaped island of Drangey in Skagafjörður is one example. In The Sagas of the Icelanders a man named Grettir ‘the Strong’ Ásmundsson returned from self-imposed exile on the island by swimming more than 7km to shore. There are puffin covered islands in Skjalfandi Bay too and you will see them feeding over vast areas for sand eels.

Puffin colony in Iceland
Puffin colony in Iceland

Arctic Foxes

The Arctic Fox is in summer dress in our photos amongst the flower meadows. Tecla voyages in the Hornstandir National Nature Reserve has regularly spotted Arctic Foxes and their cubs. They are protected here and have no natural predators. in winter their coats are white for the snow. They are more curious then afraid and they might even come close to our party when we are on our walks. 

arctic fox in the North West Fjords of Iceland
arctic fox in the North West Fjords of Iceland

Whooper Swans, Ptarmigan, Phalarope

We are not twitchers so I won't give you a full species list but if you are a keen bird watchers these voyages would get you places that would take a lot of effort to reach by land. For the casual bird watcher it is just lovely to watch so much bird life in this rugged wilderness. Send us your photos when you get back.

red necked pharalope. Photo by Tecla skipper
Red necked pharalope. Photo by Jet - Tecla skipper

Bird Watching by Boat and on Foot

There are many opportunities to watch wildlife whilst on a sailing holiday. The pressure wave created by the bow cutting through the water is a popular spot for dolphins.  At anchor you can hear the whooping swans or loons fly overhead and it can be so quiet that the sound of waders or seabirds can be heard at some distance. On wild windy days the sea birds are in their element, flying close to the waves to fish the surface or dive. Walking ashore brings other rewards amongst different habitats. The coast in Iceland has few human settlements and the seas provide a rich good source for Iceland's marine wildlife.

Tecla goose-winging down the Icelandic Coast.
Tecla goose-winging down the Icelandic Coast.

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