Whale Species in Iceland

Whale Species in Iceland


The planet is full of amazing, fascinating creatures and whales fall in this category. They are one of nature’s extraordinary sights! Whales are intelligent and sensitive beings. These magnificent giants roam the oceans of the world and Iceland is lucky enough to have them in huge numbers in its waters. Iceland lies where warm and cold oceanic currents meet. The mixing currents, coupled with abundant summer daylight and relatively shallow waters, boost the thriving of a rich variety of krill and fish. This makes Iceland a favorably feeding ground for whales.

There are twenty-three species of whales in Icelandic waters, eight of which are frequently seen on whale watching tours. The whales range from 1.5 meters up to 30 meters long. Most of the whale species are migratory. They move between their breeding and feeding areas. They migrate to the equator to breed and to give birth in the much warmer waters.

Whales belong to the scientific order Cetacea, together with dolphins and porpoises. Though they share many common traits, whales are not fish but mammals. They are warm-blooded animals, breathe air through their lungs, give birth to young ones, and nurse them. Read on to discover the most common species of whales you will see on whale watching tours in Iceland.

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are frequently seen on whale watching tours in Iceland. They have a large and robust body that is black above and black- and – white on the underneath. They are identified by the obvious hump and their stocky body. These gentle giants are the liveliest and don’t seem to be shy at all!

Humpback whales love to show themselves and to put on a show even when they’re being observed. They are known for water-surface acrobatics. They roll over, leap out of the sea, slap and splash with their fins and flukes on the surface. They often shoot through the surface and crash down on the water, making a splash that can be heard over a kilometer away.

Humpbacks are very social and form small but intimate groups. They occasionally engage in a cooperative hunt. They have a length of 12-16 meters and weigh between 24-40 tons. There is a high probability you will see a humpback whale on any whale watching tour in Iceland, especially in the north and West Iceland.

During a whale watching tour, you might freeze because of the cold and the strong winds along the shore. So be sure you are dressed warmly 😉

Minke Whales

Minke Whales are the most common whales on Icelandic waters with many migrating here during the summer season. They are small compared to other species of whales and seldom grow longer than 9 meters in Icelandic waters and weigh 8-10 tons. The whales are recognized by white stripes across their flippers.

Minke Whales are known for their curiosity and for approaching the boats. They can be solitary or social; often travelling alone or in small ponds of 2-3 animals. Minke whales mostly keep close to the shore and are common all-round the country.

White-beaked Dolphins

These are a robust species of dolphins characterized by their short thick creamy- white beak. They are abundant all around Iceland throughout the year and commonly seen on whale watching tours. They are playful and sociable and are often curious about motorboats.

Sometimes, the White-beaked dolphins follow watching boats, jumping, and doing all kinds of tricks though they tend to lose interest rather fast. They form groups of 5-50 animals, which often affiliate in schools of several hundred individuals.

Sperm Whales

Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed predators. They have the biggest brain on earth! Their brain is six times larger than the human brain. They have the loudest voice in the animal kingdom and can communicate with each other when they are thousands of miles apart.

Sperm whales are 12-20 meters long. The head occupies a third of the length and contains large quantities of fat oil that enables them to dive so deep. They can dive as deep as 3000 meters and stay in water for more than two hours. They are commonly seen on whale watching tours on the west coast of Iceland in late spring and early summer. The sperm whales around Iceland are bulls.

The Orcas (Killer Whales)

Killer whales are the largest member of the dolphin family. They have a very robust body and a conical head. Orcas are the ultimate ocean predators and feed on many species of seals, smaller and larger whales, giant skates, fish, squid, and octopus. They are one of the most sociable whale species and travel in groups that stay together for a lifetime.

Killer whales develop their unique dialect and hunting techniques within the pod. They frequently engage in surface behavior such as breaching (jumping completely out of the water) and tail slapping.

They are most common in East Fjords, around the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and along the South coast. Orcas whales are also seen on whale watching tours in West Iceland in late spring and early summer though they have been seen on rare occasions in North Iceland.

Fin Whales

The Fin Whale is the second largest on earth after the blue whale and the fastest swimmers of the larger species of whales. They have a long sleek body with a dark color above and white beneath and a brown-toned chevron pattern behind the head.

Fin Whales sometimes travel with Blue whales with which they occasionally interbreed. They produce very loud, low- frequency vocalizations that travel long distances underwater. Fin whales are occasionally seen on whale watching tours in the north and south during the summer months.

Harbor Porpoises

This is among the smallest of the cetaceans, with a low dark triangular dorsal fin and a small rounded head. They can be seen all around the country throughout the year but most commonly seen on whale watching tours in summer months.

Harbor Porpoises are rather shy and tend to stay away from the boats. They occur in solitary or in pairs but they can also form small groups of up to six individuals. Adult males weigh about 70kg and are less than 2 meters long while females are equally long and weigh between 50-70kg. When threatened, they can race across the surface in a behavior known as roostering, a very dramatic display.

Blue Whales

The B lue whale, also known as the ” King of the Sea ”, is the largest animal ever known to have lived on earth. It is even bigger than the biggest dinosaurs! Their tongue alone can weigh as much as an elephant! Its mouth is enough to park a car in it. Blue whales are long and slender with unique mottling on their body, spots, and blotches of different shapes and colors. They occasionally travel together with fin whales. The giant mammals weigh between 110-190 tons and are 20-30 meters long.

The B lue whales have a loud voice with their low-frequency sounds hundreds of kilometers underwater. The sea giants are commonly seen on whale watching tours in H ú sav í k during summer.

Pilot Whales

The Pilot whale, a member of the dolphin family, belongs to the toothed whale’s group. They are highly social and often travel in large groups or schools though individuals can travel solitarily. They may remain with their birth pod throughout their lifetime.

Pilot whales are capable of diving to depths of 600 meters though most dives are to a depth of 30-60 meters. They are spotted off the south-east, south, and west coasts of Iceland in late summer and fall. They weigh 2-5 tons and are 4-8 meters long.