Greinasafni: Icelandic Times
Gentle Giants of the Sea
Whales are mysterious creatures in many ways and in contrast to most land animals much of their behaviour has yet to be explained. Scientists are still researching the migration patterns of many whale species and no one really knows where the whales around Iceland go during the winter. But through 150 years of experience Húsavík‘s whale watching company Gentle Giants has gotten to know these giants more than most people will ever do.

Stefán Guðmundsson, Managing Director of Gentle Giants, comes from a long line of fishermen who originally went to sea in rowing boats and then later motorboats. Through years of experience around whales he says they‘ve definitely discovered that individual whales and whale species have unique characteristics. “We’ve seen that the older animals are usually much calmer and seem to be more indifferent of visitors than the younger animals. But as with other species each animal has its own character – some are especially curious and show more interest in visitors, while others are more playful and can even showboat in front of visitors, much like dolphins are known for,” says Stefán.

When asked about why some whales sometimes jump up in the air, like you can see on the front cover, Stefán says there are many theories. “Some say that they have an itch which they are trying to relieve the annoyance by crashing on the water’s surface. Others say it is a part of a power struggle between animals and yet others say it’s an act of intimidation against intruders. But in my experience I think they are in many cases just playing around and showing their might and majesty to those who want to see,” says Stefán.

Stefán says the Humpback whale is the most common sighting on Gentle Giant tours and often also the most enjoyable ones. “Sometimes when the Humpback swim up to the boats to see their visitors we just turn off the engines and watch them while they frolic in the ocean and enjoy themselves,” says Stefán. The largest animal on earth is the blue whale and they happen to be fairly frequent visitors in Skjálfandi bay, where Gentle Giants operate. “The blue whales don’t seem to mind our presence, but due to their enormous size they only have to flick their tail a few times to be miles away. But we can often get fairly close to them and it is truly an awe-inspiring experience to be in their presence, ” says Stefán. Just to give you an idea of their size – a blue whale’s heart is around the size of a small automobile and a full grown animal can weigh up to 190 tons.

Other whale species commonly found in Skjálfandi Bay are the Minke Whale and Harbour Porpoise, while others are less common. “We often see the dolphins doing various aerial aerobatics and it is always as magnificent to behold,” says Stefán. Gentle Giants offer guided tours departing multiple times a day during the summer with a 98% success rate of spotting whales on tours.
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