While in the Galapagos a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to observe whales around Fernandina Island. It only whetted my appetite to see more.
Fast forward a couple of years and I’m in Husavik, Iceland with National Geographic Expeditions. Whale watching capital of the country. Daily tours leave Husavik to troll around Skjálfandi Bay, near the Arctic Circle, searching not only for several species of whales but also sightings of dolphins and puffins.
We started in Husavik at the University of Iceland whale research center where a National Geographic research student, Charla Basran, told us about the whale research occurring here. Her Ph.D. research is on the effects on humpback whales of getting caught in fishing nets.
Then we all (including Charla) went on the whale watching cruise. We had a private cruise (which was good, because the other tour boats really packed them in) with Gentle Giants. We had a decent day for the trip. No rain, some sun, but foggy. We could see some of Iceland’s coast hazily in the distance, including some small waterfalls pouring down the side of the cliffs.
The tour lasted about two hours, but it took a good ½ hour each way to get to the prime
sighting area. We were first outfitted in overalls for warmth. One of the crew laughingly thought I was a size small but I squeezed into it after taking off my fleece jacket (which you didn’t need in these suits). I took a spot near the bow and it was the prime viewing spot as you could see activity off both sides of the boat.
To this point, we hadn’t seen any puffins on the trip, so spotting our first puffin floating on the water overly excited us. But more puffin lay ahead. They flew past the boats in a swarm.
I spotted the first dolphin (possibly a white-beak dolphin) off to the left side of the boat and we were off. We saw bits
and pieces of lots of whales (specifically humpback & minke, Carla told us) such as fins and backs, but not a full whale. It was like the Galapagos. We saw a lot of white-nose dolphins too a lot closer to us, sometimes in schools of two or three.
Those of us who have done whale watching before knew what to look for—a waterspout signaling a humpback whale was about to emerge, or a bird feeding frenzy as they usually feasted on a whale’s leftovers. We saw a lot of feeding frenzies.
I expected to see more boats on the water. There were only two others in our area and we traveled as a group a lot, but it wasn’t crowded. Supposedly there are whale spotting planes to tell the boat where to go, but we didn’t see any.
Finally, we had to return to shore. We had hot chocolate on the way home, which was good because it felt cold on the way back (didn’t feel cold up until that point, I guess excitement warms you up).
If you want to go: https://gentlegiants.is/