A few years ago I was at a function with someone who owns and runs accommodation in Grundarfjörður who started telling me about strange things that were happening in the sea outside of the town. They woke up one morning (not sure that’s exactly how this happened but for dramatic purposes, I’m sticking to this version of the story) and looked out at sea and saw a bunch of orcas playing around, easily visible from land. The guests at his establishment would literally look out the window from the rooms and see them there and all of a sudden Grundarfjörður became the orca spotting capital of Iceland.
I’ve never seen an orca in the wild. Except for one time when we were driving through Big Sur in California and saw one from the road. Or maybe it was some other whale but it looked like an orca at least. In case you are wondering what an orca is, many people are not familiar with this term I’ve learned, we’re talking about the better-known killer whales. You know, Keiko and Tilikum and them lot. By the way, if you haven’t seen Blackfish I would really recommend you watch it – it’s really good. I believe it’s also available on Netflix, in some regions at least.
Over the last few years, the best time to spot the orcas in Grundarfjörður has been February and March. It has something to do with the herring that these magnificent animals feast on that arrives in Iceland around the same time.
Ever since this became a thing I’ve been wanting to go up to Grundarfjörður and see the orcas for myself. I’ve tried a few times but the trips always got canceled either due to the weather or our crazy schedule. A couple of weeks ago we had a guest on our walking tour who raved about seeing orcas on a tour with Láki Tours in Grundafjörður a few days earlier so when an unexpected opening in our aforementioned crazy schedule emerged a few days later, we made a quick decision to make a trip up to Grundarfjörður to check this out ourselves.
To make a long story short we didn’t see any orcas. Nor white-beaked dolphins which they also routinely see. In fact, due to the weather, we didn’t see much of anything. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been following my failed attempts at seeing whales for the last few years but I also heard on the radio on the way back from Grundarfjörður that so far this year they’ve only seen one family or pod in the waters around Grundarfjörður and they haven’t been able to find them on every tour (these whales travel great distances in a day and they’re basically just following their food). Like with any wildlife (or the northern lights) you can’t count on them showing up just because you are ready to see them.
The Láki crew certainly did their best to try to find them though and we were out at sea for three hours. The guide did try to explain a little bit about the birds we were seeing and when everyone was about to lose all feeling in their toes and fingers in the cold, the crew offered hot cocoa which was most welcoming. At the end of the tour, since we didn’t see anything, the guide announced that everyone would get a ticket to join any tour with Láki again at a later time which I think was a nice touch.
Although I was obviously disappointed about not seeing any whales or dolphins, or the landscape which I often enjoy as much as the wildlife, I did find something strangely soothing about this boat trip. With the stress in my life, my head never stops and even when I do find a few moments to relax I never stop for long enough to completely unwind. On the boat, however, with nothing but the sea in front of me and too much noise to have a meaningful conversation during the trip my head all of a sudden became completely blank. It was like a three-hour continuous meditation with the wind in my face and I felt completely rejuvenated after it. The best three hours I’ve ever spent, I guess for all the wrong reasons. Or unusual or unconventional reasons in any case.
Our day trip to Snæfellsnes in pictures