Responsible Iceland Whale Watching

Sustainable Whale-Watching with IceWhale

Arctic Sea Tours is a proud member of the Icelandic Whale Watching Association (a.k.a. IceWhale).

Iceland’s waters are visited by some of the most incredible whales in the world — orcas, blue whales, humpbacks and many, more, you name it and Iceland has it! This makes Iceland one of the world’s best places to see whales in their natural environment. This also places a huge responsibility on tour operators to ensure that our actions don’t impact these incredible creatures in any way. 

Arctic Sea Tours is committed to responsible whale-watching, ensuring that future generations can see and enjoy whales long into the future. To this end, we are members of IceWhale, a voluntary organization that promotes sustainable whale watching in Iceland.

Sustainable Whale-Watching

Arctic Sea Tours is committed to providing exceptional whale watching experiences for both visitors and the animals that we observe. We want to create an environment where marine mammals can survive and thrive, allowing future generations to enjoy these majestic giants of the deep. We’re proud members and contributors to IceWhale, a voluntary organization that provides advice and a Code of Conduct for whale watchers in Iceland. We also implement our own rigorous operational procedures according to the highest possible industry standards.

The Benefits of Whale Watching

The benefits of whale watching have been examined by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the global body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling. They report that the whale watching industry was worth more than $2 billion dollars in 2009, providing an economic incentive for communities to care for the whales that reside in their waters. This translates to more than 13,000 jobs and gives societies a sense of stewardship for the cetaceans in our oceans.

However, the IWC believes that the greatest benefit is educational, arguing that seeing whales in the wild inspires people around the world to protect these magnificent species and the habitats that they need to survive. Whale watching also adds to our knowledge of aquatic life, helping to support the research community and its effort to study these fascinating creatures. 

At Arctic Sea Tours, we seek to ensure that our whale watching adventures help to encourage awareness and educate our customers about Iceland’s whales in the hopes that future generations can continue to enjoy them just as much as we do. 

The Impacts of Whale Watching

Short Term

The IWC has examined the potential short-term and long-term impacts of whale watching, highlighting the negative effects that irresponsible whale-watching can have on marine mammals. Whales use avoidance tactics, such as deeper dives and swift maneuvers to avoid boats that get to close, which could lead to a change in their behavior. This often occurs when there are several whale watching boats in a small area. It’s incumbent on responsible tour operators to maintain a safe distance from the animal being watched and ensure that the animal isn’t being crowded by multiple boats. 

Arctic Sea Tours takes these potential impacts seriously, which is why we’ve signed up to the voluntary IceWhale Code of Conduct to ensure that we do not negatively impact the animals that we’re watching.

Whale Watching in Dalvik

Long Term

The long-term impacts are difficult to quantify because whales live to be old and it's difficult to find species that haven't interacted with humans for a long period of time. The IWC believes that the desire of cetaceans to avoid human encounters might cause them to change their feeding and breeding grounds to avoid boats. They also stress the importance of not causing the animals stress by sailing too close, which could cause hormonal changes. The engines of boats also have the potential to damage whale's hearing, mothers and calves being the most at risk due to their inability to escape quickly.

Arctic Sea Tours is committed to minimizing the long-term impacts of our actions. We follow the IceWhale Code of Conduct and have other operational procedures to ensure that our actions don’t impact these wondrous creatures for the years to come. 

Does whale watching harm whales?

The true, complete impact of whale watching is not known. The general consensus holds that responsible whale watching does not affect the animals significantly but irresponsible whale watching has the potential to do serious damage. Arctic Sea Tours is committed to responsible whale watching to guarantee that our actions do not damage, in any way, the peaceful creatures we show you. 

The History of IceWhale

Many different marine mammal species visit Iceland’s waters at different times of the year, making it one of the best places to watch whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. Iceland is also one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, leading to fears that the growth of the whale watching industry may negatively impact cetaceans and other marine creatures. This issue is worsened by the lack of governmental regulation of the whale watching industry and the potential for less scrupulous operators to harm Iceland’s marine habitat. 

IceWhale was established in 2015 to counteract this issue, aiming to educate the public about whales and promote sustainable practices in the whale watching industry. They began by developing a voluntary code of conduct in conjunction with tour operators like us, international experts, and likeminded whale watching charities from around the world.

The IceWhale Code of Conduct was introduced in 2015, following a tour operators’ workshop in Reykjavik. Arctic Sea Tours signed up immediately and has been a proud member and contributor to IceWhale ever since. The Code of Conduct is an ever-evolving document and will continue to be developed as we learn more about how human interaction affects oceanic life. 

The IceWhale Code of Conduct 

  • IceWhale seeks to promote these aims:
  • To minimize the impact on cetaceans into the future and the sustainability of whale watching operations in Iceland.
  • To ensure the best possible encounter, both for animal welfare and passenger enjoyment.
  • To increase development, understanding, and awareness of appropriate practices when watching whales, dolphins, and porpoises

Code of conduct for responsible whale watching

Orca Guardians Iceland 

Iceland’s whale watching industry is in its early stages, however, there are a number of NGOs who are seeking to help promote responsible whale-watching in Iceland. Orca Guardians is a brand-new organization that plans to help promote sustainable killer whale watching in Iceland. Orca watching can be particularly dangerous to the animals due to more likely collisions with boats or propeller injuries. 

Orca Guardians are currently developing a killer whale specific code of conduct for orca watching boats in Iceland. It will combine the IceWhale Code of Conduct along with other killer whale focused provisions. It’s currently in its developmental stage, however, we fully support the work of Orca Guardians and plan to sign onto the new code as soon as it’s released. 

The People Who Work for Us

Arctic Sea Tours is passionately committed to responsible and sustainable whale watching. We only employ expert captains and guides who want to share their love for the marine life that lives in Iceland's waters. They care deeply for the animals that they are showing you, aiming to educate you regarding these magnificent creatures. We want every participant in our tours to come away with a profound love of whales after witnessing them in their wild habitat.

Our Promise 

Arctic Sea Tours is committed to responsible whale watching. We want to inspire and educate, so that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the same incredible marine life that we do. We promise to maintain the following minimum standards during our whale watching tours:

  • To strictly adhere to the IceWhale Code of Conduct and thoroughly investigate any breaches of the code that may occur on our tours
  • To rigorously review our operational procedures to ensure that we stay in-line with the best whale watching practices and any species-specific practices that relate to our tours
  • To employ expert members of staff, who are able to meet the highest possible standards
  • To make sure that our staff is trained to the highest possible standards
  • To use the best equipment available on our tours to avoid damage to the whales and their habitat
  • To ensure that our tours are educational while stressing the positive and sustainable aspects of whale watching

We urge you to report it to us if any of our tours fall below these standards so we may investigate and take appropriate action. If you feel that our response is inadequate and falls short of our pledge, please contact IceWhale