The Blue Whale
Earth's largest animal migrates to Icelandic waters each summer. To find the blue whale requires luck, and a trip to the northern Skjálfandi Bay.
Húsavík is a town of one harbor, four whale-watching companies and a population that weighs about the same as the blue whale. And that’s not because the 2,000 people who live in Húsavík are exceptionally slim: Averaging 155 tons, the blue whale is biblically big! It’s the approximate length of a Boeing 737 aircraft and has a heart the size of a Volkswagen. Impressed already? Its veins are wide enough to room a waterslide.
Mystery Whale Arrives
About one thousand blue whales are estimated to live in the North Atlantic Ocean. They all lead a private and mysterious life: Marine biologists who make it their life’s mission to study them don’t know, for the most parts, where Earth’s largest animal hangs out and makes love. But one thing has emerged in the past ten years: The blue whale really, really likes Húsavík, the “whale-watching capital of Europe” by Skjálfandi bay in northeast Iceland.
Researchers have identified 148 individual blue whales in Skjálfandi bay, about 15 percent of the entire regional population, in the past ten years. They come to feed, together with other migrant marine mammals, and the most likely time to see them is late-June. But sporadic sightings are made all through summer—the first in 2021 was sighted on 18 June.
“People don’t always realize how magnificent and special it is to see the blue whale,” says Marianne Helene Rasmussen, a Húsvík-based research professor at the University of Iceland. “They are possibly the largest-ever animal to inhabit Earth. Larger than the dinosaurs.”
Marianne’s first blue whale sighting in Iceland was after a 14-hour whale-watching trip in 2004. Only in the last decade, with changes in the ocean’s food-web linked to climate change, have the blue whales regularly been spotted in less than a two-hour sailing distance from Húsavík.