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  • Writer's pictureElding's research team

When is the best time to see humpback whales?

Many passengers on our whale watching tours are interested to know when is the best time to go whale-watching. We especially frequently receive questions about humpback whales, as they are a bit of a crowd favourite. Therefore, we delved into our sightings data from 2022 classic whale watching in Reykjavík to give you some insights into our sighting success per month and per time of day. As always with wildlife tours, we do have to keep in mind that the sightings are completely unpredictable and highly variable and we therefore cannot say with certainty when the best time is. In some years the summer might be fantastic, while other years we can have a bay full of whales in the winter. Even within the same day, we can have an astonishing diversity of sightings. What we can say, though, is that whichever time of year or time of day you come, the chances to see at least one humpback whale are high: in 72% of classic whale watching tours last year out of Reykjavík we saw humpback whales!

Sightings per month

Last year in Reykjavík, June was the best month for humpback whale sightings: we saw at least one humpback whale in 98% of our classic whale-watching tours!

Sightings per time of day

The highest percentage of humpback whale sightings occurred on our 14:00pm tours (90%). However, the difference between the sighting success per time of day was not very significant.

Number of sightings per tour

We were also interested to see whether the number of humpback whale sightings varies per month. In the summer we generally have the highest abundance of humpback whales and minke whales. The increasing daylight invites the baleen whales to feast on the high productivity in the bay when they have all returned from their breeding grounds around March - April until the end of the summer. This high abundance is reflected in the average number of sightings that we have per tour: in June, we had over two sightings per tour on average, and in some tours we even had 6 different sightings!

When are humpback whales the most social?

Finally, we analysed when humpback whales occur in pairs. We found that by far the most pairs and trios of humpback whales were seen in October. Maybe the whales try to form alliances before going on their winter migrations? Or perhaps they have eaten enough and can focus more time on being social late in the season?

Nature is full of surprises

After all these graphs, we want to again emphasise that however much we want to plan the perfect whale-watching trip according to statistics - in the end, nature always does its own thing. In our opinion, the variability and unpredictability of our tours makes every outing exciting, no matter what time of day or time of year we go. It's also good to keep in mind that the numbers we have presented here only consider the humpback whales, but the bay hosts so much more life that is also incredible to see. For example, although March doesn't seem like the 'best' month for humpback whale sightings in Reykjavík in the statistics, we have enjoyed superpods of white-beaked dolphins and lots of fin whales, along with many humpback whales in March 2023. It's therefore impossible to predict the best time to come whale-watching, and sometimes it is also good to just let nature take control and enjoy whatever surprises it has in store for us.

Passengers watching a humpback whale - Photo by Eline van Aalderink

By Eline van Aalderink


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