Why are Whales so important?

To celebrate Earth Day 2021 we wanted to create a quick post to highlight our favourite mammals – whales (if you hadn’t guessed!).

We created a list about why the gentle giants of the sea are so important.

  • They are beautiful, majestic and very cute.
  • Their poo ‘fertilises’ the sea so carbon absorbing phytoplankton can grow.
  • After they die their carbon rich bodies sink deep and provide nutrients to lots of deep sea organisms.
  • They keep balance in marine ecosystems by eating and controlling predator fish.
  • They support economies- whale Watching tourism is worth >$2.1 billion USD per year ( 250,000 Whale Watchers in Iceland per year!).

What’s not to love!

A tour of Snæfellsnes: the peninsula of beauty.

We took a day trip from Reykjavík to the devastatingly beautiful Snæfellsnes peninsula and we wanted to share it with you. We went with Christina from Nice Travel (not sponsored).

Snæfellsnes is about 2 hours drive north from Reykjavík and is really worth the journey. Right now there very few international tourists in Iceland due to covid travel restrictions, though Snaefellsnes is usually always much quieter than the south coast anyway.

Driving through Hvalfjöður ( Whale fjord) on the way to Snæfellsnes.

A great thing about Snæfellsnes is you can travel from south to north or north to south, so you can really plan your day around where the weather is best.

The weather in Iceland changes so much throughout the day, so when you visit make sure you are keeping an eye of the local weather. It’s really important not to look at just precipitation, but the wind too. The wind can get uncomfortably or dangerously strong quite often.

Today’s forecast: Even though it’s April there is still a lot of snow and ice around with winter like conditions. Today the weather is looking calmer and dryer on the south for the morning, so we plan the trip south to north and prepare to drive carefully.

We first headed from Borganes to Ytri Tunga golden Sandy beach first where saw some wild seals.

A top tip for travelling in Iceland, whatever time of year it is, is to always bring lots of layers and wet weather gear as the weather changes so dramatically. The locals will always remind you – ‘There is not such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’

Next we stopped at Búðakirkja the gothic historic black church and Bjarnafoss; the beautiful waterfall opposite.

We do really love the independence of exploring ourselves, but you get so much out of a tour (especially when exploring new places!). Our guide today Christina shared so many stories and so much information about Icelandic culture, history and nature.

Then onto Arnarstapi fishing village to see the stunning basalt cliffs, arches and beautiful harbour.

Fun fact: Snaefellsnes community has EarthCheck certification for their commitments the sustainable tourism management.

After we jumped out the car to visit the rock formations Longdrangar and to see a stunning view of Snæfellsjökul; the peninsulas’ glacier.

From Longdranger we went to Djupalonssandur; a black sand beach. On the beach there are huge rocks or lifting stones fishermen used to determine who was strong enough to work out at sea. On the beach is also a very broken up ship wreck.

Kirkufell was our last stop. Kirkufell is famous for being the Arrow Headed mountain from Game of Thrones. So as it was our final stop we took the time to take a seat and enjoy our grumpy whale hot chocolate.

We were super lucky with the weather and really enjoyed driving through the dazzling scenery to get to our stops. Although we could not access a few spots because of deep snow and a few places were shut due to low tourist numbers, we will visit again soon to share a few more of our favourite Snæfellsnes spots.

Takk Fyrir Christina!

Icelandic Volcano: The fire to melt our ice.

Around 30 km from the capital city of Iceland Reykjavík (our home), on the 19th of March 2021, a volcanic eruption occured. This eruption is very exciting as it is quite accesible and safe compared to other modern eruptions in Iceland. So we being a company with adventure at our core we have of course been to visit. So far we have hiked once during the day, once at night and got a chance to fly over too!

Whales of Iceland

Did you know there are 23 species of whales (cetaceans) in Icelandic waters? Some of the most common are Humpback, Minke, Orca, white beaked dolphins and harbour porpoise. Sei, fin and blue whale sightings are much rarer. They are attracted to Icelands abundance of fish and krill munch on in the shallow fjords. Find out why whales are so important here.

photo of whale underwater
Photo by Elianne Dipp on Pexels.com

We have always thought of our grumpy whale to be a humpback characterised by the long flippers. We think though the legend that inspired him was possibly a blue whale due to how big he is depicted in legend. Did you know blue whales are the largest living thing on the planet?

You can read all about the folklore behind our grumpy whale here.

If you want to find out more about whales we have written a brief summary of places to head:

1. Visit a museum:

  • Whales of Iceland who have life size models are loads of interactive information about each whale based in
  • Húsavík Whale Museum a non profit who aim to ‘convey information about whales, marine ecology and the interaction of whales and humans through history in an entertaining and interesting way’

2. Visit the whales in the wild:

Whale watching tours take you out on boats to get you a close encounter with the whales. Summer, generally, is the best season to see whales.

– Húsavík, Akureyri & the North

Whale encunters are more frequent in the north of the country as there are a greater abundance of animals in the area.

Húsavík is Iceland’s whale watching capital with a high chance of seeing minke and humpback whale as well as puffins in the summer and other bird life. It is so good there is even a song about it!

(The oldest whale watching company in Húsavík is North Sailing who even offer a carbon neutral silent tour!)

Akureyri offers only a slightly smaller chance of sightings, but the larger town provides more opportunities for adventure around your whale watching time.

– Reykjavík

Tours from the capital are extremely convenient as departures from the old harbour a within walking distance of the city center and offer a great opprtunity to see minke and harbour porpoise with devestatingly beautiful views of Faxaflói bay.

– Snaefellsnes and the West Fjords

This area is your best chance of seeing pilot, orca and sperm whales. We love this area as it is usually slightly quieter and there is so much to explore on land too. With beautiful mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, beaches and other wildlife (like seals!).

3. Visit the Belugas in their bay:

Head to the Beluga Sanctuary in the Westman Islands to the south of the mainland to visit Beluga whales living a more natural life after being held in captivity for entertainment in Shanghai Aquarium.

Why is our whale so grumpy?

Our grumpy whale is inspired by this mischievous whale Rauðhöfði or Redhead, who in Icelandic folklore is given credit for the origin of the name Hvalfjordur or Whale fjord. Hvalfjordur is a beautiful serene fjord north of Reykjavík. We love exploring Hvalfjordur and have spent a lot of time there hiking, diving and kayaking accompanied of course by hot chocolate.

Exploring Hvalfjordur with friends.

Like most Icelandic folklore when you look a little deeper this story is a little darker than our modern romantic tales of old. Rauðhöfði actually begins this story as a man. A man who wronged his Elvin lover when he refused to claim his child and baptise them. The elf was so angry she cursed him to become an evil whale. The man became mad and while wearing a red cap jumped into the sea and became the whale Rauðhöfði. Rauðhöfði began to reek terror wrecking fishing ships in Faxaflói bay on the west coast of Iceland and eventually found a home in what we know today as Hvalfjordur.

Glymur Waterfall, Hvalfjordur

In the fjord lived a priest who’s sons had been killed by Rauðhöfðis’ antics. The priest got his revenge by luring him to the end of the Fjord and up a river into the mountains to a lake, know know as Hvalvatn or Whale Lake. Rauðhöfði was never seem again and was assumed to have died from exhaustion. The waterfall on this river got the name Glymur or Roaring and the hills around Skjálfandahæðir or Shaking Hills from the sound the whale made while travelling. Whale bones found in this lake at the bottom of Hvalfell or whale hill have given a long legitimacy to this tale.