Let’s talk about whales! Sunday June 10, two colleagues and I joined Whale Safari on one of their tours – Reykjavík Express Whales & Puffins. This is an adventure bird and whale watching tour by RIB which takes two hours and starts at the old harbour in Reykjavík. And it turned out to be a great day out on the ocean! Let me tell you what to expect when you go whale watching with Whale Safari.
Puffins on Engey island
Before the tour, everybody gets a warm overall, a life jacket, gloves and goggles. You wear the overall over your normal jacket and clothes, so it’s extra warm. You don’t have to take the gloves and goggles, but I would always recommend it. The RIB sails with high speeds, and in combination with cool ocean air it quickly gets cold. Also, you don’t want your eyes tearing up by wind blasting in your face, so just take those goggles with you.
When everybody is geared up, you are escorted to a 12-seater RIB. Luckily, Whale Safari has put new chairs in their boats, which are basically seats on top of giant springs. I have gone on a tour like this before without spring-based seats and that was really straining on my back and knees. I was happy to see they modernised their boats.
If you pick a seat in front of the boat, you will have a bumpier ride. If you are prone to seasickness or don’t want to bounce too much on the waves, pick a seat at the back of the boat. Based on previous experiences, I chose a safe place at the back, but my colleagues Berglind and Israel sat all the way to the front.
On our tour, we didn’t have to wait long before our first encounter with cetaceans, as white-beaked dolphins greeted us right when we reached the open sea. They were in a good mood and kept coming to our little boat. They were swimming under our boat and jumped out right next to us. Because the water is so clear, we could follow them swimming under water beside us and see them breach. Dolphins are so much fun to watch!
It was amazing to see them so nearby at sea level, an experience you would not get if you choose to go on one of the bigger whale watching boats. However, if you prefer having a bar and warm inside area, check out one of the other whale watching tours departing from Reykjavík.
After enjoying the dolphins jumping around us, it was time to move on, in search of something bigger.
White-beaked dolphins © Whale Safari
We speeded away from the dolphins and for a while, it seemed quiet, but the bigger whale watching boats around us made us suspect something was going on. And indeed, close to us a minke whale surfaced. It was an impressive sight! Even though minke whales are the second smallest baleen whales, they are still about the same size as Whale Safari’s RIBs (8m), so nothing to mess with. Shortly after we sighted the minke whale it went for a deeper dive, and the guides decided to move on to look for more whales.
This was a good choice, as again, a minke whale surfaced. It swam parallel to our boat for about 10 minutes, surfacing every now and then. This was just incredible! We really had time to have a good look. After this, we went to a new location one more time to see a minke whale surface, and then it was time to move on to the puffins.
Although commonly sighted, we didn’t see any humpback whales on this tour. It’s a pity, but the dolphins and minke whales sure made up for it.
Minke whale © Whale Safari
Puffins and other seabirds!
This may sound weird, but seeing puffins was the main reason I joined this tour. I think puffins are just too cute, and I love seeing them fly about. And with 8 to 10 million puffins inhabiting the island, Iceland is home to more than 60% of the world’s entire Atlantic puffin population. There is a 100% sighting success on the puffin tours, and we indeed saw dozens of them.
Whale Safari took us close to Engey island, which is a protected nature reserve during nesting season, so nobody is allowed to set foot ashore. Puffins build their burrows on the island, and hunt for small fish in the waters around it. Even though we could see lots and lots of puffins, they are extremely shy and would dive or fly away quickly when our boat was approaching them. Protip, bring binoculars for the best experience.
Other impressive birds we saw during this tour are Northern gannets, Northern fulmars, eider ducks, great cormorants, arctic terns and black guillemots.
Northern gannet © Whale Safari
Ocean view of Reykjavík
At the end of the tour, the RIB races back to Reykjavík, taking a couple of sharp turns just in front of The Sun Voyager. This part of the tour is really fun, with people walking along the coast laughing and waving. It’s great to see Reykjavík from the water, and you get a unique view of Harpa Concert Hall.
Harpa Concert Hall
Book a tour
If you are interested in going on this tour, book the Reykjavík Express Whales & Puffins tour here. There are several departures every day between April 15 and October 31. Even though there is a high chance that you will see whales and dolphins, keep in mind that sightings are not guaranteed as the animals go where they please.
Check out the Instagram story about this tour made by Berglind below. And follow What’s On on Instagram for more stories and photos.
Thank you, Whale Safari, for this great tour!