Whale Watching in Iceland
Sue Fisher, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, James St West, A whale watching workshop, sponsored by the Whale and Dolphin
Bath, BA1 2BT Conservation Society, hosted by the Reykjanes Tourist Board,
Keflavik, was attended by at least twelve prospective whale watching
Each year, thousands of tourists visit Iceland to view its natural operators from all over Iceland.
attractions, including the midnight sun, volcanic lava flows, geysers,
glaciers, birds and other wildlife. Since the termination of its whaling
industry in 1992, Iceland has also become a popular whale-watching 1996
destination. Regular sightings from whale-watching boats in Iceland
include humpback whales, orcas, pilot whales, minke whales, white • 9,500 people went whale watching in Iceland, comprising nearly
beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises. Further offshore sei, sperm, 85-90% foreign tourists (Björgvinsson, 1996)
fin and blue whales can be seen. This paper reviews the scale and • Eight operators offered whale-watching tours
regulation of whale-watching operations in Iceland. • Direct revenue was estimated at £285,000
• Total revenue was estimated at £1.5 to £2 million (Hoyt, pers.
History of whale watching in Iceland
No whale watching occurred. A detailed feasibility study, prepared by • 20,534 people went whale watching in Iceland. 85-90% were
Lindquist and Tryggvadottir, identified key areas for whale watching foreign tourists (Björgvinsson 1997).
around Iceland. • Thirteen operators offered whale-watching tours
• Direct revenue was estimated at £534,300.
1991 • Total revenue was estimated at £2.8 - 3.7 million (Hoyt. pers.
Whale watching commenced in Iceland:
• 100 people went whale watching in Iceland. Regulation of whale watching in Iceland
• One operator offered whale-watching tours.
• Direct revenue1 to Iceland was estimated at £10,000. Iceland has no national legislation or regulations governing its whale
• Total revenue2 was estimated at £35,000 (Hoyt, 1995). watching industry. Regulations and guidelines observed by operators
in other countries have been supplied to Icelandic whale-watching
operators, and it is believed that they are observed (Björgvinsson
Iceland left the IWC. No data on whale watching is available.
Attitudes to whaling in Iceland
1993 Of thirteen whale watching operators interviewed in 1997, only two
supported the resumption of whaling by Iceland and only one would
A UK-based travel company began to bring mainly British whale stop its whale watching if whaling recommenced (Björgvinsson 1997).
watchers to Iceland (Björgvinsson 1997). Most were receptive to advice on how to improve their operations and
educate tourists about whales.
• Five whale-watching tours were offered (Hoyt, 1994).
The Icelandic Board of Tourism has stated its opposition to any
resumption of whaling by Iceland while the IWC moratorium is in
1994 place. In 1998, it announced the results of a survey of tourists leaving
Iceland, conducted in summer 1997. One of the questions was “would
• 200 people went whale watching in Iceland. it have had any effect on your decision to come to Iceland if Iceland
• Four operators offered whale-watching tours. would resume whaling. 54% of respondents said that it would have
• Direct revenue was estimated at £20,000. negative effects (Icelandic Board of Tourism, pers. comm).
• Total revenue was estimated at £90,000 (Hoyt, 1995).
Coverage of whale watching by Icelandic radio, television and
newspaper is regular and positive; emphasising the benefits of whale
1995 watching to local communities.
• 2,200 people went whale watching in Iceland, including nearly
2,000 foreign tourists (Björgvinsson 1997). The future
• Four operators offered whale watching tours.
• Direct revenue was estimated at £66,000. The Marine Research Unit of Iceland proposes that if whaling were
• Total revenue was estimated at £350,000 - 500,000 (Hoyt, pers. resumed in Iceland, it would be executed on a scale similar to the
comm.) “scientific whaling years” - 1986-1989. The annual value of hunting
fin and sei whales during this period was estimated at between £3-4
million, most of which came from an export market (Japan) which is
now prohibited. The income from whale watching is expected to
increase over the next few years. The potential of whale watching in
Iceland was described as “outstanding” in 1997 (Hoyt, 1997).
Estimated amounts spent on whale watching tours for the year. In
most cases these are based on minimum or average unit cost of the -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
tours, i.e. ticket price to consumer. The usual rate for a three hour tour -------------------
in 1997 was £22 - £30.
The sum of direct and indirect revenues. Indirect revenues include Whale Watching Operators in Iceland, 1997:
food, travel, accommodation and souvenirs. In general, the total Name and centre of operation
revenues from whale watching near urban centres with day (or less)
trips are 3.5 x the direct revenues. In remote centres which require 1. Norõursigling (North Sailing), Húsavík
considerable travel, total revenues are usually at least 7.67 x the direct 2. Sea Tours of Arnar Sigurõsson, Húsavík
revenues. Using the 7.67 multiplier for Iceland, where whale 3. Níels Jónsson, Akureyri
watching is conducted away from urban areas, total revenues for 4. Sea Tours, Dalvík
8. Bátsferõir, Snæfellsnes
9. Húnastrond, Skagaströnd
10. Konráõ og synir, Ísafjörõur
11. Viktoríubátar, Reykjavík
12. Eyjaferõir, Stykkishólmur
13. Árnes, Reykjavík
Björgvinsson, A. 1996. Whale Watching in Iceland 1996. A report to
the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
Björgvinsson, A. 1997. Whale Watching in Iceland 1997. A report to
the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
Hoyt, E., 1994. “Whale Watching and the Community: The Way
Forward”, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Bath, UK, pp. 1-
Hoyt, E. 1995. The Worldwide Value and Extent of Whale Watching:
1995. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Bath, pp.1-36.
Hoyt, E. 1997. The Potential of Whale Watching in Europe. Whale
and Dolphin Conservation Society, Bath, UK, pp 1-34.
Lindquist and Tryggvadottir, 1991. Unpublished.
Numbers of whale watchers in Iceland, 1991-1997
1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
Direct and total revenue from whale watching in Iceland, 1991-
1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 Direct revenue
year Total revenue