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Discover the Enchanting Wildlife of Iceland: Your Ultimate Guide

Wildlife in Iceland is like no other—it provides visitors with a unique experience to observe the diverse flora and fauna of this Nordic nation.


From majestic whales to playful puffins, Iceland offers something for nature lovers. This guide explores the diverse animal species, including puffins, arctic foxes, reindeer, and more, that inhabit the land. So if you're ready to explore Iceland's flora and fauna, then read on!


Wildlife Iceland

Species of Whales in Iceland and Other Marine Life


When you think of wildlife in Iceland, the first thing that likely comes to your mind is whales. From humpback whales to orcas, blue whales, and narwhals, Iceland is home to some of the most beautiful marine life in the world. But did you know that there are even sharks in Iceland? In this section, we'll delve into all the fantastic marine life that you can discover while exploring Iceland.


Whales in Iceland


When it comes to whales, Iceland is a whale watcher's paradise. Considered to be the whale-watching capital of Europe, Iceland is home to about 23 species of whales. The most common whales that you'll find in Icelandic waters include:


  • Humpback whales

  • Killer whales

  • Minke whales

  • White-beaked dolphins


If you're lucky, you may even spot a fin or blue whale, the largest animal ever known to exist on Earth! Here is a closer look at some of the whales in Iceland you can spot:


Humpback Whales


Get ready to be blown away by the incredible humpback whales, the rock stars of wildlife in Iceland! These majestic creatures are like superstars, with their long pectoral fins and signature flukes that set them apart from the rest. Picture a black body with a stylish white patterned underside, each humpback whale rocking their own unique ‘fingerprint’ of markings.


Iceland Humpback Whales

Iceland is the ultimate playground for humpback whales, boasting the largest population of these superstar swimmers on the planet. Approximately 15,000 humpbacks call Iceland's chilly waters their home, feasting on a delectable menu of krill, herring, and other fishy treats. With their mouthful of fibrous plates instead of teeth, they expertly catch and filter out the water, showing off their baleen skills.


To catch a glimpse of these ocean superstars, make your way to the northern and western coasts, where humpbacks love to put on a show. Whether you embark on a classic whale-watching tour from vibrant Reykjavik, where humpbacks are frequent visitors, or head to the renowned whale capital of Húsavík for an unforgettable experience, prepare to be starstruck by the remarkable humpback whales of Iceland. It's like a red-carpet event for wildlife enthusiasts!


Killer Whales


Dive into the fascinating world of killer whales in Iceland, where these magnificent creatures steal the show with their incredible presence. Iceland is one of the fortunate destinations where you can spot killer whales, also known as orcas, in their natural habitat throughout the year.


The resident killer whales are the permanent residents of Icelandic waters, boasting a population of around 5,000 individuals. These orcas have a taste for herring, which is abundant in the area. To catch a glimpse of these social acrobats, the best time to visit Iceland is during the winter and early spring months, when the fjords are brimming with herring, drawing the orcas closer to the shores.


Killer Whales

While there's no guarantee of a sighting, booking a whale-watching tour increases your chances of witnessing these majestic creatures in all their glory.


Minke Whales


Ah, the marvelous minke whales, the smallest members of the Rorqual family and one of the common types of whales in Iceland. These sleek beauties measure 7-10 meters/23-33 feet long and weigh a hefty 5-7 tonnes. Don't be fooled by their small size, though—they've got some serious snacking skills. Their diet consists mainly of small schooling fish like sand eels, capelin, and even krill. Talk about having a versatile palate!


Minke whales are known for their distinct features. With their narrow, sharp-snouted profiles and high, curving dorsal fins, they make quite the fashion statement on the ocean catwalk. These creatures have some social habits too. They occasionally gather in small groups or show off their spy-hopping skills, popping their heads out of the water to say hello.


When it comes to speed, minke whales are no slouches. They can zip through the water at up to 40 kph/25 mph, showing off their sleek physique and impressive endurance. However, they face challenges, including encounters with their killer whale foes and the not-so-fun entanglement in fishing nets. Humans can also be their competition when it comes to securing tasty meals.


Minke Whales

Blue Whales


Blue whales in Iceland are the true oceanic giants that capture the imagination of all who encounter them. These magnificent creatures, boasting lengths of up to 30 meters/100 feet and weighing a staggering 200 tons, are the largest animals on Earth. And guess what? You can spot them in the chilly waters surrounding Iceland.


If you're eager to witness these majestic beings in action, head to the northern regions of Iceland. Places like Húsavík often referred to as the whale capital, and the picturesque Eyjafjörður fjord offer promising opportunities for spotting Blue Whales. Remember that even with their colossal size, these creatures have a knack for staying elusive. They only surface every 20 minutes to breathe, making each sighting a special and awe-inspiring moment.


So, grab your binoculars and join a whale-watching tour to increase your chances of encountering a Blue Whale in Iceland. Be patient, keep your eyes peeled, and get ready to be enchanted by the sheer magnificence of these gentle giants.


Blue whales Iceland

Narwhals


Narwhals, also known as the 'unicorns of the sea,' are an elusive species and can be spotted in the waters around Iceland. Narwhals in Iceland are known for their distinct features and intriguing behaviors.


Adult males measure about 4-6 meters/13-20 feet long and weigh 1.2-1.6 tons, while females are slightly smaller. With a small convex head, no dorsal fin, and short spade-like flippers, these enigmatic creatures possess a unique charm. Narwhals are known for their distinctive spiral tusk, which grows from the left tooth of male narwhals. These tusks can be incredibly long, reaching up to 2.7 meters/8.8 feet long and weighing up to 10 kilograms/22 pounds.


It is unclear why narwhals have developed this unique feature. The best time to see Narwhals in Iceland is from May to June when they migrate closer to the shores for food. If you're lucky, you might spot a herd of narwhals swimming gracefully in the icy waters.


Wild animals in Iceland

White-Beaked Dolphins


White-beaked dolphins are remarkable creatures commonly found in the waters surrounding the island, making them one of the beloved whales in Iceland. These dolphins have a distinctive appearance and behavior that sets them apart.


They are rotund and strongly built, with a mid-back dorsal fin reaching about 15% of their total back length. The beak is short and thick, coming in white, brown, or grayish colors. Their flippers are long and broad, tapering sharply towards the front. One of their most noticeable features is a light gray saddle-shaped area on the rear of their back.


These playful dolphins display a captivating mix of gray, black, and white patterns along their sides. They are powerful swimmers known for their speed and agility. Unlike most dolphins, they don't rise high out of the sea to blow; instead, they lift their head from the water, creating turbulence around their beak.


Spotting their spout can be a challenge. White-beaked dolphins often exhibit energetic behavior, jumping high out of the sea and making a big splash as they land on their side or back. Pods of white-beaked dolphins can range from a few individuals to many hundreds, making encounters with them truly exhilarating.


White-Beaked Dolphins

Sharks in Iceland


Sharks in Iceland are quite rare, as the Icelandic waters are too cold for them to survive. However, Iceland is home to one of the few species of shark that can tolerate the cold waters, such as the Greenland Shark.


Although they are not commonly seen, it is feasible to observe the elusive Greenland shark in the deep waters surrounding Iceland. These sharks can reach a length of 6.5 meters/21 feet and weigh up to 1,000 kg/2,200 lbs.


They are known to be opportunistic feeders, consuming a variety of marine creatures and land animals that have drifted into the sea. Greenland sharks used to be highly valued for their liver oil, but the industry ultimately declined due to competition from other sources. Nowadays, these sharks are mainly caught incidentally in other fishing operations.


sharks in Iceland

Seals


There are probably few wild animals in Iceland as cute as seals; these playful creatures are a delight to watch. While you're likely to spot some seals playing in the ocean, there are two main places where people can get up close and personal with these animals.


The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon near Hofn is a popular spot for seal-viewing, while the Westfjords have a large colony of seals that can be easily observed. It's important to remember to keep your distance from the seals, as they are wild animals and should not be disturbed.


With their endearing ways and captivating presence, seals are a true marvel of the wildlife in Iceland. Don't miss out on the opportunity to observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat!


Seals in Iceland

Birds in Iceland


There are 370 species of birds in Iceland. Out of the 370 species found on the Icelandic bird list, penguins in Iceland are not one of them. You see, penguins are not native to Iceland and seldom drift on icebergs to the island nation. That being said, there are still plenty of birds that call Iceland home. Let's take a closer look at some other birds native to Iceland:


Atlantic Puffins


Did you know that the puffin bird in Iceland is the rock star of the avian world in Iceland? These charismatic creatures spend most of their lives at sea, but when it's time for romance, they flock to the Icelandic shores to form breeding colonies. And Iceland is the puffin paradise, hosting around 60% of the world's Atlantic puffin population.


With their distinctive penguin-like appearance, complete with a vibrant and ever-so-fashionable beak that changes from gray to a dazzling orange hue, these puffins know how to make a statement. They are skilled swimmers, using their wings to navigate the underwater world and impress potential mates with their diving skills.


If you're keen to glimpse these adorable daredevils, head to the south coast of Iceland, where spots like Dyrhólaey offer front-row seats to puffin parties and their bustling nests in the rocky cliffs.


icelandic birds list

Birds of Prey in Iceland


There are some incredible birds of prey in Iceland. You can spot different species of birds of prey, including the merlin (Falco columbarius), the gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus), and the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). These birds have adapted to their environment and developed unique hunting techniques. Some prefer to feast on animals they kill, while others have a taste for fish, insects, or even carrion.


A good spot to catch a glimpse of these majestic birds in Iceland is the Westfjords. Not only does this remote region draw wildlife lovers due to its vast wilderness, but also for its relatively untouched habitats. Here, visitors can take in some of the most impressive views of golden eagles, snowy owls, and other birds of prey.


birds of prey iceland

Other Common Birds in Iceland


Iceland is home to various birds, from the Arctic Tern to the Greater Scaup. Bird watching is a popular activity for visitors and locals alike, as it allows you to observe some of the most beautiful birds in the world in their natural habitat. Here are some of the most common birds in Iceland:


  • The Eurasian or Common Blackbird: The Eurasian or Common Blackbird is one of the most recognizable birds in Iceland. These birds prefer wooded habitats, gardens, parks, and other areas with plenty of vegetation. They have black plumage with yellow beaks and legs, and they make a distinctive chirping sound.

  • The Arctic Tern: The Arctic Tern is another common bird found in Iceland. These seabirds migrate from their breeding grounds in Greenland and Canada all the way to Antarctica each year, making them one of the longest-distance migrants on Earth! They have white bodies with black heads and wings, and they are known for their graceful flight patterns.

  • The Tufted Duck: The Tufted Duck is also commonly seen in Iceland's wetlands and lakes. This duck has a black head with white cheeks and a brown body with white spots on its wings. It has an unmistakable tuft on its head that gives it its name.

  • The Gadwall: The Gadwall is another duck species that can be found in Iceland's wetlands and lakes. It has a grey body with white patches on its wings, as well as an orange bill and feet. It feeds mainly on aquatic plants but will also eat insects when available.

  • The Whooper Swan: This is one of the largest waterfowl species found in Iceland. It has an all-white plumage with an orange bill and feet, as well as black markings around its eyes. Its call is loud enough to be heard up to two miles away!


native animals to iceland

Mammals Native to Iceland


When you think about all the wildlife Iceland has to offer, some might think that there are wolves, polar bears, and other dangerous mammals in Iceland that lurk in the shadows since the country is located close to the arctic circle. But that is not the case! In fact, the most dangerous animals in Iceland you're likely to encounter are the blue Arctic fox of Iceland. Let's take a closer look at the foxes of Iceland.


Foxes in Iceland


Foxes in Iceland are represented by a unique and captivating species: the blue Arctic fox of Iceland. As the only mammal native to Iceland, these foxes have evolved to thrive in the island's challenging environment.


Their distinctive blue fur, which provides excellent camouflage against the snowy landscapes, is an enchanting sight. To delve deeper into the world of Arctic foxes, visiting the Arctic Fox Center in Iceland is a must. This center offers invaluable insights into the biology, behavior, and conservation efforts dedicated to these remarkable mammals.


The blue Arctic fox of Iceland is a rare sight, but it can also be found in the Westfjords region. Additionally, the blue Arctic fox can also be found in other parts of Iceland, although they are more likely to be brown morphs than blue.


Foxes in Iceland


Other Iceland Mammals


Although foxes are the only native mammals in Iceland, there are plenty of other animals that live in Iceland. These are not native animals to Iceland but still offer a unique experience. Here are some of the mammals to look out for in Iceland:


Reindeer in Iceland


Reindeer are not animals native to Iceland but were brought to the country in the 18th century. Today, roughly 3,000 reindeer live in the Icelandic highlands near Mount Snæfell. These animals stay mostly at high elevations and can be difficult to spot for tourists. Reindeer feed on a type of lichen called Cetraria islandica which is found in abundance in East Iceland.


Reindeer hunting is a popular activity in Iceland as they are the only big game animal on the island. Hunting season usually occurs during August and September, when the herds migrate down from higher grounds. It's important to note that there have never been domestic reindeer in Iceland, so all of the herds are wild and free-roaming.


The story of reindeer in Iceland is an interesting one, as it was humans who introduced them to the island centuries ago. Since then, these animals have adapted well to their new environment and continue to thrive today. For those looking for a unique experience, visiting the Icelandic highlands and spotting wild reindeer can be an unforgettable adventure!


Reindeer in Iceland

Iceland Rabbits


Rabbits in Iceland are charming to Iceland's fauna, but interestingly, they are not animals indigenous to Iceland. The present stock of rabbits in this country can be traced back to 2010 when a few pet rabbits were imported. Nowadays, these rabbits have become a part of the wild fauna of several parts of the country.


The rabbit population has grown rapidly since their introduction, and they are now creating havoc in Iceland, worrying many people. To prevent the further spread of these animals, importing pet rabbits and rodents is strictly regulated by Icelandic authorities.


Despite their destructive nature, many people still find them adorable and enjoy watching them in their natural environment. A great place to do so is Reykjavik Park and Zoo, where you can see birds, sheep, foxes, and rabbits all at once!


Icelandic Horses


In the stunning realm of Icelandic wildlife, a small but remarkable population of wild Icelandic horses roams freely, captivating the hearts of nature enthusiasts. These majestic creatures embody the untamed spirit of the land, adding to the rich tapestry of wildlife in Iceland.


While most Icelandic horses are owned and cared for by farmers or stable owners, there exists a special group of approximately 100 truly wild horses. These untethered equines graze on the bountiful vegetation of the highlands, evoking a sense of awe and admiration in those fortunate enough to encounter them.


Icelandic Horses

You can also experience Iceland on horseback if that's your preference. Many tour operators around the country offer horse tours of varying lengths and difficulty levels. One of the best tours to go on is a Viking Horse Riding tour that takes around 3 hours and allows visitors to explore the stunning dormant volcano of Mt. Helgafell.


Icelandic Sheep


Icelandic sheep are a unique breed of domestic sheep that have been around for over 1,000 years. They are native to Iceland and were first brought to the island by the Vikings in the 11th and 12th centuries. Icelandic sheep are classified as part of the North European Short-tailed group of sheep, and they are larger than most breeds in this group.


Icelandic sheep are known for their thick coats, which keep them warm in even the coldest climates. They also have open faces and legs, as well as udders that produce high-quality milk. Icelandic lamb meat is considered a gourmet food in Iceland, and many restaurants serve it as a traditional dish. The meat is naturally rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and iron, giving it a well-rounded flavor.


Icelandic sheep can be found grazing in the meadows of Iceland's countryside, often with their lambs in tow. These animals have an important role to play in Icelandic culture, and they have helped to shape the country's history and agricultural landscape for centuries.


Icelandic Sheep

FAQs About The Fauna and Flora in Iceland


Are there monkeys in Iceland?


Yes, there are monkeys in Iceland! The Jigokudani Monkey Park near Nagano is a famous hot spring area and is home to the only troop of monkeys known to bathe in hot springs. Visitors can observe these snow monkeys as they take a dip in the hot springs and enjoy the cold surroundings.


Are moose found in Iceland?


No, moose are not found in Iceland. The natural wildlife of Iceland does not include moose. Moose are primarily found in the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia, inhabiting forests and wooded areas. While Iceland boasts stunning landscapes and unique wildlife, moose are not native animals to Iceland.


Are there polar bears in Iceland?


No, there are no polar bears in Iceland. Polar bears are classified as marine mammals and are largely found inhabiting the Arctic region, but they have been known to make rare appearances in Iceland. The last polar bear in Iceland was seen in 2016 when a female polar bear reached the shores of Hvalsnes.


Are there any Bears in Iceland?


No, there are no native bears in Iceland. Bears are not part of the natural wildlife found on the island. The lack of bears in Iceland is due to the country's geographical isolation and historical factors.


Is it possible to see wolves in Iceland?


No, it is not possible to see wolves in Iceland. Wolves are not animals indigenous to Iceland. Iceland's isolation and geographical separation from mainland Europe have prevented the natural migration or establishment of wolf populations on the island.


What kind of fauna can be found in Iceland?


Fauna in Iceland is unique and varied. Seabirds such as puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars, and gannets can be seen plunging into the waves and soaring through the air around coastal areas. Arctic foxes can also be found in Iceland, as well as reindeer herds.


What kind of Iceland flora and fauna can be seen in the highlands?


The Icelandic highlands are rich in unique flora and fauna. Reindeer, ptarmigans, and ravens can be seen in the mountains. The highlands are also home to wild sheep and goats, as well as Arctic foxes. The flora of the highlands includes colorful wildflowers, mosses, and lichens.


Iceland flora

Rich and Diverse Wildlife in Iceland


Iceland's wildlife is a testament to the country's stunning natural beauty and unique ecological environment. From the majestic whales that grace its shores to the elusive arctic foxes that roam its rugged landscapes, Iceland is home to a diverse array of wildlife.


To truly capture the stunning beauty of the wildlife in Iceland, it would be wise to consider renting a 4x4 campervan in Iceland. This provides the perfect opportunity to explore all that this country has to offer in terms of its rich and diverse wildlife. From reindeer to puffins, a 4x4 campervan will provide the ideal base to explore the country's captivating wildlife.

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