A Summer in Húsavík, the European capital of whale watching! – 2018

Hello everybody! For this episode of baleen whales, I would like to share some memories from when I spent a few weeks whale watching in Iceland. It was the first time that I traveled alone and it was a big adventure for me.

By that time, I was yet a biology student, and following my passion for the whales, I spent a couple of weeks in Iceland as a friend of mine was working as a whale-watching guide. So, as you can imagine, I jumped on the boat as much as I was offered a chance, and I am very thankful that it was a lot.

As some of you may know, whale watching season in Iceland is mostly happening in Summer. You could see whales year-round, but in Summer, you can see the most, as the ones who left for the Winter breeding season are back and feeding around the fiords. Summer in Iceland means that you barely get any night-time: the Sun is up more than 20 hours a day! This, allows tour operators to work from early in the morning until past midnight and have a very special tour called: the Midnight Sun tour, starting past 9 pm.  

The bay where Húsavík is located (Skjálfandi) is stunning, and from the sea, you can see the snowy fiords, the hills with this violet carpet from the Summer flowers, the small village, and the whales. And on top of that it is midnight and the colour of the sky is this yellow Naples that makes you feel that you are in a dream. Try to picture that, it is a memory that you won’t forget!

I was lucky enough to see Humpback whales on every tour that I went out on, and I got to see also Minke whales, Northern Bottlenose whales, and White-beaked dolphins. I felt very blessed. But most of the time, the Humpbacks were the ones to win the most attention. Remember that Summer is feeding season in the Northern Hemisphere, and this meant that they were very busy filling their bellies and growing back all this blubber that they had lost during the Winter. Humpbacks have a notorious way of feeding, they have several techniques to fill their mouths with the small schooling fish and crustaceans that they prey. I couldn’t see proper bubble netting, which is when they cooperate to gather fish inside of a sort of nets that they make blowing bubbles, but I could see them diving for fish, and blowing bubbles in a less coordinated –but I guess equally efficient–  way. You could see them diving in pairs or alone, and then before you saw the whale coming back to the surface, a lot of bubbles would emerge first. All this action, together with a lot of birds trying to get their part, was an amazing sighting.

I thought that during the feeding season, Humpback whales are focused on the food rather than the interaction with the others, so I wasn’t expecting any aerial performance like breaching or fin-slapping. And I was mistaken, we saw one of them lob-tailing non-stop for what felt like a long time!

I had never seen a Humpback whale before that trip to Iceland, and finding how huge but acrobatic and agile, and loud these animals were, really got me. I will always remember all those sightings in Iceland with deep love.

I would like to acknowledge Nacho Oria and Gentle Giants for their generosity.

Maria Serra @awhaleandagirl

This post was adapted from a voice recording in episode 57 of the Whale Tales Podcast, listen here

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