The North Sea, Northern Atlantic Ocean and Icelandic Waters

A Fruitful Cruise Trip

June 2016

As I have been to Iceland before trying to look for whales and dolphins but saw nothing, I have been thinking about visiting the place again in summer (Trip details of last time). I decided to do my trip differently this time. We set sail from Newcastle of the United Kingdom on the last day of May on a cruise ship for Iceland. During our 10.5 days of sailing from the North Sea via the northern Atlantic Ocean to Iceland and back to Newcastle, we were blessed with very good sea condition which enabled us to spot any activities on the sea. As my cetacean photographer friend has extraordinary good eyesight, we were able to spot a total of 10 cetacean species along the way. Among these, three are new to me – Atlantic White-sided Dolphin, Sowerby’s Beaked Whale and White-beaked Dolphin (the 40-42nd cetacean species I have encountered). These are our sightings:

North Sea
Minke Whale
Harbour Porpoise
White-beaked Dolphin

Northern Atlantic Ocean
Long-finned Pilot Whale
Atlantic White-sided Dolphin
Sowerby’s Beaked Whale
Cuvier’s Beaked Whale
Minke Whale
Harbour Porpoise

Icelandic Waters
Minke Whale
Harbour Porpoise
White-beaked Dolphin
Humpback Whale
Blue Whale
Sperm Whale

Harbour Porpoise

White-beaked Dolphin

Minke Whale

Humpback Whale - breaching, chinslapping, fluking, lunge feeding

Whale watching on a cruise ship is not an easy task. The ship is much bigger and higher up and it makes no efforts to approach cetaceans even if they pop up. The engine is also much noisier than whale watching boats, which means some cetaceans will tend to stay away. Many of our sightings were very far away. Yet, a cruise ship will enable us to get to waters that whale watching boats cannot reach.

We had also get on whale watching boats at Reykjavik and Akureyri which enabled us to get closer to our cetacean friends to take better pictures.

Anti-whaling efforts in Iceland

While talking to the whale watching company staff, it is encouraging to hear from them in person that they are working against whaling in Iceland. They told me that there is only one person in Iceland who is actually promoting this horrible thing. The good news is that, he is starting to lose power. More and more people are standing against him and think that the international image of Iceland should not be dampened by the act of one person.

There are things that tourists could do to help stop whaling in Iceland. Joining whale watching tours is an effective way to support their efforts in fighting against whalers. At the same time, as tourists, we should be vigilant when going to restaurants. We can either look for the “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us” blue label with whales or ask the waiters whether they serve whale meat before entering a restaurant. By turning away from a restaurant that serves whale meat, it gives a clear signal to the restaurant owners that selling whale meat will make them lose business.

It is also confirmed that Fin Whales will not be hunted in Iceland this year. So, the only victims that remains are the Minke Whales. This also explains why Minke Whales tend to stay away from boats or ships as they are still hunted in Icelandic waters.

Whaling in the Faroe Islands

On our way back, we passed by the infamous Faroe Islands. Massacre of Long-finned Pilot Whales and Atlantic White-sided Dolphins often occurred in different bay areas of the Faroe Islands. As the majority of the Faroese people supported their so-called tradition of whaling, I am one of the passengers who remained on board as I don’t want to support their local economy. This is proven to be a right decision, as my fellow passengers who got on shore told me, their guide of the shore tour openly talked about their whaling “tradition” and said that nothing can stop them.

Cruising round the Faroe Islands was an emotional and heartbreaking experience. I had been calling on the dolphins and whales to avoid the area for the whole morning. Every time we passed by a village, the only thought I had was that many of my cetacean friends might have been or will be brutally killed there. While no doubt it’s a scenic place, the blood in the waters has made this place a graveyard for whales and dolphins which they cannot rest in peace.

Seabirds and other birds

While sailing at sea, we had also encountered many seabirds – Fulmars, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Eider Ducks, Puffins, etc. Summer is the breeding season of many seabird species and it’s the only time in the year that they come to shore. At Reykjavik, we also took a boat trip to view Puffin colonies from a distance and watch them flying by.





Golden Plover


Arctic Tern and the nest

Eidar Ducks - mother and chick, male, nesting, the nest

Bird hotel - a wall with holes specially built for birds to nest

Other Animals

Reindeer (male and female)

Common Seals / Harbour Seals



Beautiful Scenery

Apart from cruising along the coastline of Iceland for exotic scenery, we also had the chance to visit some remote places where even Icelanders had never visited. Some of our shore tours included visits to a secluded island inhabited by a farmer family and a private nature reserve. Breeding birds could be viewed in these places, some of which offer up close encounters. The fields of lupins in the nature reserve is worth special mentioning.

Peaceful island

Midnight sun setting


Volcano at Snæfellsjökull

Cliff with nesting birds


Fields of lupins

Iceland and the Faroe Islands are beautiful places. I sincerely hope that whaling will no longer be associated with them.

Travel Information

Cruise ship: MV Balmoral

Whale watching and Puffin watching tours at Reykjavik: Elding Whale Watching

Whale watching at Akureyri: Ambssador Whale Watching, Whale Watch Akureyri