Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 2 April 1997

Iceland for Whale Watching!

by Dr. Robbins Barstow, CSI Director Emeritus

Want a new adventure in whale watching? Try Iceland!

It has recently been forecasted that Husavik, Iceland, will be the main whale watching center in Europe within a few years. The first commercial whale watching operation in Iceland was initiated in 1991 in the southeast town of Hoefn. Growth was gradual for the next three years, but during the seasons 1995 and 1996 there has been a virtual explosion in whale watching operations all around the coast of Iceland. One reason for this positive development is that whaling operations from Iceland ceased in 1989.

In Husavik, a largely fishing town of about 2,500 inhabitants on Skjalfanda Bay, on the northeast coast of Iceland, whale watching has skyrocketed. From an initial total of some 1,500 passengers in 1995, whale watching jumped to well over 7,000 people in 1996. Out of 187 approximately three-and-a-half-hour trips on two up-to-46-passenger boats, whales were sighted last year on 184 trips (98%). Whales seen included minke whales (98% of trips), fin whales (33%), white-beaked dolphins (31%), and harbour porpoises (16%). Also seen on Husavik trips, though rarely, have been orcas and humpbacks.

The Cetacean Society International knows a good thing when we see it! CSI Vice-President Barbara Kilpatrick has written Iceland officials requesting further information about current opportunities for whale watching in Iceland, and two of CSI's volunteer correspondents in Iceland - Dr. Ole Lindquist and Arni Finnsson - have also sent us much helpful data by e-mail.

In addition, we have communicated directly with Mr. Pall Thor Jonsson, who operates the Husavik Hotel and has been a leading, public promoter of whale watching in Iceland as a new tourist attraction.

At the present time, Husavik appears to be the prime location for whale watching, although there also are a number of other coastal areas in Iceland where less frequent trips are available. For the first time this summer, an operator on the Snaefellsnes peninsula in West Iceland will employ a fast catamaran in order to reach blue, fin, and sperm whales farther off shore, close to the traditional whaling grounds.

Two local Husavik companies called "North Sailing" and "Arnar Sailing" operate three boats for whale watching, up to four trips a day each, June through August, including an 8 pm trip to catch the midnight sun. The per person price per trip is $35 US.

Trips of 2 to 3 hours to the island of Lundey in Skjalfanda Bay are also operated out of Husavik. The name Lundey means Puffin Island, and it is famous for its colony of tens of thousands of puffins.

Iceland, a rugged, island country about the size of Kentucky, is located in the North Atlantic, just south of the Arctic Circle, between Greenland and the British Isles. It has many exceptional scenic and historic tourist attractions.

International flights from the USA to Iceland are with Icelandair, which also provides domestic flights from Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland, located on the southwest coast, to Husavik in the northeast, where whale watching is now catching on as a new enticement.

For the information of CSI members who might be interested in traveling to Iceland for some "High North" whale watching, we have discussed with Icelandair what might be included in a special whale watch package tour from Boston or New York. CSI is hoping to be able to arrange with Icelandair and Hotel Husavik a package plan which could be purchased at a special rate by individuals during the 1997 whale watch season from May 1 through September.

Full details for this proposed package have not yet been arranged, but the total price per person (with hotel room double occupancy) is expected to be less than US$1500.00. This would include:

  1. Round trip plane fare from Boston, New York, or Baltimore via Icelandair to Reykjavik, and round trip transfers to hotel.
  2. Two nights at a hotel in Reykjavik, with Scandinavian buffet breakfast daily.
  3. Round trip domestic flight via Icelandair from Reykjavik to Husavik.
  4. Three nights at Hotel Husavik.
  5. Two whale watching excursions by boat from Husavik (3 to 3 1/2 hours average length), and a 2-3 hour boat trip in Skjalfanda Bay to Lundey, the puffin island, for bird watching and sea angling, weather permitting.

Additional options, not included in the basic package, might be arranged for day tours to scenic and historic sites around Reykjavik, and from Husavik, land trips to visit Jokulsa National Park and Canyon, Dettifoss Waterfall, Lake Myvatn hot springs and volcanic fields, etc.

The Cetacean Society International is not in a position to sponsor a group tour at this time, but we will be glad to send additional, detailed information to anyone interested in the possibility of going whale watching in Iceland this summer.

Please write to: Barbara Kilpatrick, CSI Vice-President, 15 Wood Pond Road, West Hartford, CT 06107, USA, or communicate directly with Icelandair Holidays, 5950 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, Maryland 21044, USA (Phone: 800-223-5500, Ext. 3).

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© Copyright 1997, Cetacean Society International, Inc.

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