Leaving Reykjavik harbour to go whale watching – we certainly weren’t expecting to find a fin whale! What an incredible day for everyone, a true once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Written by Jenn Lucky Byfleet – Head Guide
What an absolutely incredible day! A fin whale hasn’t been seen in the Great Bay since 2017, but then today, after already seeing some awesome minke whales we found one! Today we also saw porpoises, the smallest member of the whale family, as well as some black-backed gulls, eiders, and kittiwakes.
The trip started out beautifully, with perfect weather, blue skies, and calm seas as we headed out from Reykjavik harbour on our luxury yacht, Amelia Rose. We had harbour porpoises bounding through the water all the way out to the area we often find whales, and that is usually a great sign. In the natural kingdom, it comes down to where the food is, or where their mates are. All the porpoises were feeding so there must be a lot of fish in the area – Iceland is known for its rich fishing grounds to be fair. We didn’t stop long to watch them but carried on in search of a larger cetacean.
Out in the feeding grounds we came across a couple of beautiful minke whales, a type of small baleen whale, feeding like there was no tomorrow and surrounded by even more porpoises. It was an absolutely incredible sight! We stayed and enjoyed their feeding and frolicking for as long as we could before heading back in towards shore.
Then, whilst we were all warming up with mugs of delicious hot chocolate, our engineer Emil called on the radio that he’d seen a huge blow! We all poured out from the warm interior onto the viewing decks again, and kept a lookout ourselves. At first, we thought it must be a huge humpback, the most likely candidate in the area, but as we headed in the direction our engineer had pointed we saw the blow again, a straight column, more than the puffy cloud of a humpback. More similar to a small blue whale blow or a sei whale. Did you know you can identify whales by their blow?
As we got closer we could see the smooth skin and swept-back fin. This was definitely no humpback. We were pretty sure this was a fin whale! Normally they live 30 miles off the coast, but this curious beast had come only a kilometre or so off the shore. To get a proper identification we looked between the dorsal fin and the tail flukes. Another name for a fin whale is a razorback because it has a prominent ridge in that area. When the fin whale arched its back to do a deep dive we saw this line clearly.
Seeing a whale like this is a once in a lifetime experience, it was incredible to even see its blow, at least 4 or 5 metres high. But the whale itself must have been three or four times that. It is the second-largest whale in the world, second only to the blue whale, the largest animal to have ever lived.
After checking with the passengers that no one had a flight to catch and wasn’t in a hurry, we extended our trip and stayed to view the whale as the other boats who had come into the area left. Soon we were alone with this incredible creature. We turned our engines off and just let it circle us, curious and friendly. Eventually, we head back into the harbour, having had a truly incredible day that would stick with us forever. It was a delight to show this amazing creature to our lovely customers.
Coming to Iceland people often have both seeing the whales and the northern lights at the very top of their bucket lists, and rightly so! We love showing everyone both. If you have booked onto a whale watching tour with us you can come out with us to see the aurora for half price, but still aboard the luxury superyacht Amelia Rose.
For more information on how we search for whales and dolphins, and learn how to be a pro-cetacean spotter yourself have a look at our guide here.
Sea Trips Reykjavik sail daily from Reykjavík Old Harbour, Iceland. Our yacht, Amelia Rose was built as a super yacht in 2003 and as such is extremely comfortable and stable. However the seas often change here, and people are affected differently by the movement of the oceans. As such we have seasickness tablets available for free at the bar. We also have warm blankets and ponchos around the yacht for your comfort, though the inside of the ship is extremely warm and snug.
What is the difference between baleen and toothed whales?
We see both toothed and baleen whales here in Reykjavik harbour, Iceland. Did you know that dolphins and porpoises are also part of the same family? www.uk.whales.org is a brilliant website that goes into a lot more detail however this is the basic description!
They write that;
“Baleen whales have baleen plates, or sheets, which sieve prey from seawater. Toothed whales have teeth and they actively hunt fish, squid and other sea creatures. Dolphins and porpoises all have teeth and rather confusingly are known as ‘toothed whales’ too!
Another obvious difference between baleen and toothed whales is the number of blowholes on top of their head; baleen whales have two whereas toothed whales have one. There are only 14 baleen whale species and they are generally larger than the 76 species of toothed whales – except for the mighty sperm whale, the largest toothed whale.”
If you are interested in learning more we recommend these websites, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/whale-facts/ and https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/whale They have a lot of extra learning materials about cetaceans all over the world.