Seal Watching in Iceland – An Ultimate Guide

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Iceland is a place that offers endless opportunities to explore what mother nature has to offer. This northern European country attracts many travelers, explorers, hikers, campers, trekkers, and adventure enthusiasts throughout the year. Iceland has some of the world’s most beautiful and eye-captivating attractions that unleash many colors of the enchanting place. The surreal experience of exploring dramatic landscapes covered with gigantic mountains, soothing waterfalls, rhythmic rivers, and mesmerizing glaciers is what makes visiting the Nordic island country worth it. Iceland is a place that every nature lover and adventure enthusiast would want to visit once in a lifetime. The icing on the top is literally the unpredictable weather of the country as it effortlessly adds to the natural charm.

The best thing about visiting Iceland is that it always has something new that one can unleash and explore. It remains beautiful, thrilling, and jaw-dropping throughout the year despite different seasons, climate, and weather. Each corner of the country offers colorful and enchanting mother nature in abundance. This Nordic island nation embraces an innumerable attraction for both adults and kids that everyone would love to enjoy during their stay in the country. You can try your hands-on different sports and exciting activities, including horseback riding, seal watching, whale watching, ice caving, snowmobiling, river rafting, fishing, and dog sledding. Seal watching is one of the most exciting activities you can experience in Iceland. Seals are a species that is rare to find in most parts of the world, so having an opportunity to take a glimpse at them is a lifetime experience.

seal in Hvammstangi

Type of Seals

Iceland is home to many unique wildlife creatures; from colorful birds to strange-looking animals, it is a place that embraces some of the most thrilling living beings on mother earth. There are only two types of seal species that are pup around in Iceland, Harbor Seal, and Grey Seal, whereas there are four species that are not native to the country but visit the Island on regular basis. Harp seal, Hooded seal, Bearded seal, and Ringed Seal are the types that often visit the country.

Harbor seal is the most common seal species of Iceland. You can find the harbor seals on the north-western coast of Iceland and they normally grow up to 2 meters. Over many past years, the population of harbor seals has dramatically declined due to the population and exploitation of fur. This is the reason parts of this European country operate as seal centers and sanctuaries.

Grey Seals are bigger and larger than harbor seals as they grow over three meters. They have a straight head profile with a wide set of nostrils and fewer spots on the body. Grey seals often adorn a silky white fur body. The grey seal pups are born between September to November. To spot these huge creatures you can travel to Surtsey Island in southern Iceland or visit Malmey Island in Skagafjorour in the North.

Ytri Tunga seal colony in Snæfellsnes Peninsula

The Icelandic Seal Center

The Vatnsnes Peninsula is the best-place known when it comes to seal watching. You can head to Hvammstangi to visit Iceland’s very own seal treasure. Hvammstangi is one of the most popular villages in the north-western region of Iceland due to the Icelandic seal center. This densely populated village serves as a research and exhibition center to investigate the life of seals. If you want to learn more about seals, then you should definitely visit the center as here you get a chance to explore different species of seals found on the shores of Iceland. Their exciting lives and playful habits are enough to attract you. The seal center also offers information on the wildlife of Iceland with a special focus on eider duck, ever-famous puffins, whales, arctic fox, and inland birdlife.

Basically, you’ll walk through a whole different world of seals once you enter the center. You will be amazed by the structure and extravagant processes of the place. It will be a fun ride to explore the place with your kids and family as you would not have a chance to explore anything like this in your home country. The growing interest in seal watching and research among travelers and explorers led to the foundation of this seal center in Hvammstangi. Many species are native to the Arctic and Iceland. If you’re keen to know more about the center, its establishment and seals then you should spare some time to visit this gorgeous and well-thought place.

seals on a white beach in Iceland on Ytri Tunga seal colony in Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Some Places to See Seals in Iceland

Other than the Icelandic seal center, there are many places you can explore for seal watching which includes:

Reykjavik

If you get lucky, then you can catch glimpse of seals around the coast of Reykjavik or out in the ocean. So, if you by any chance traveling across the beach then spotting seals can be a memorable experience. If you’ll be lucky, then you can get a chance to spot seals on your whale watching tour and vice versa. Seal-sighting chances vary from place to place and time of the year. But by timing your walk on the shores within two hours either side of the tide increase your chance of catching the fun sight.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

The beaches around the Diamond Beach in Southeast Iceland offers plenty of opportunities to spot seals. You can usually see many seals laying on the beach all day long. The seals also like to swim in the glacier lagoons. Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon has a rich seal habitat. You can often see the seals from the shore but you can also take a fun and adventure-filled boat trip.

Landselur Seal Santury

It is also a popular Icelandic seal rescue center, that is located by the harbor at Búðardalur in West Iceland. Like other wildlife creatures, seals are also taking into captivity for the reason to protect their population and save them from exploitation. Landselur is also known as a place that provides shelter to seals born in Reykjavik zoo and family parks.

Illugastadir Farms

These farms can be found on the west side of the Vatnsnes Peninsula and they were developed to accommodate seal watching requests from tourists from across the globe. The farms are spread in a large area, providing shelter to many seals and their different species. You need to maintain a perfect distance to remain safe while watching the seals play and swim in the area, so for that people get binoculars. The place embraces a jaw-dropping and aesthetically appealing landscape which also houses some beautiful birds and flowers that are worth watching. You need to maintain decorum and remain calm to allow seals to approach you closely, which often is a fun part that most kids love about seal watching.

Along with the Coastal Areas

Many things in Iceland depend upon luck, be it experiencing the Northern lights or spotting the seals. Seals normally live by the shores or gather around the beaches in the East and Northeast part of Iceland, like the Husey-Utherao coast. You will also find many seal colonies around the Snaefellsnes peninsula, for example at Ytri-Tunga beach. In the Westfjords, the best place to catch a glimpse of seals would be Rauðisandur beach.

Ytri Tunga seal colony - Snæfellsnes Peninsula, seal watching in Iceland

What’s the Best Time for Seal Watching?

Seal watching can be done throughout the year in Iceland but to increase your chances to spot the seals you should look for low tides timing provided by the officials or given on the official website. Low tides mean when the water in a calm stage experiencing tides that are low and not very powerful. It is advisable and highly recommended by travel aficionados to go to the popular seal watching beaches or preferred locations two hours before the given time. As a standard practice, people often stay for as long as two hours after the given time as well. This period offers a greater chance to spot the seals as they often hang around, lie down, or swim in the low tidewater.  If you’re really passionate about seal watching, then you can also keep a close eye on the daily tidal prediction graph provided by the Icelandic authorities to better understand the movement of the tides.

Things to Remember During Seal Watching – Be Responsible

As outsiders, we need to take care of many things to avoid harming the natural habitat, natives, and culture of the country. Other than being super resourceful about the country, you should also learn and practice responsible ways to follow while seal watching. As said earlier, these creatures are endangered and deserve more care from us a human, so do not forget to read through the practices you supposed to follow as spectators. Some of which includes:

  • Never directly or indirectly think of harming the seals or cause them stress. Many mischievous souls try to bother them during the tour but it is unacceptable and questions your sensibility.
  • When visiting the center or sanctuary slow movements, quiet voices and hauling ground by foot are mandatory practices.
  • You should always maintain a decent distance from the seals, especially during the pupping season as at this time the mother seals are more defensive and can cause you harm while protecting themselves. The grey seals often pup around during late autumn whereas harbor seals pup in summer.
  • If you’re not sure about where to go or what practices you should follow as part of seal watching, then it is recommended to hire a guide or do prior research to maintain the decorum of seal watching.
  • Seal watching is often categorized as a family activity and kids love watching unique animals like this, but you need to teach them the right way of conduct so that they do not harm themselves and the wildlife creature during that moment. By educating kids about the sensitive condition of the animal and persuade them to sympathize with them can help develop a sensitivity that’s required at that moment.
  • Do not directly approach the seals, even though they’re often categorized as calm species, showing no or rare aggression, it is still advisable to admire the sight from a distance to maintain the safety of both.
  • Do not try to touch them as they may pass infections to you or the seal. If you have open wounds then it is highly recommended to avoid getting closer to the species as it can adversely affect both of you.
  • No matter how badly you want to but do not try to feed the seals. Seals are brought up with essential survival skills; they hunt for themselves and their family. Feeding them food will eventually make them reliant on human feeding which affects the survival skills that can cause them danger.
  • No one wants to miss a chance to capture this magical site accentuated by this playful and unique creature, but do not enter into their territory in order to get the best shot. Do not let the flash bother them or disturb them in what they are doing. Just enjoy the scene from a distance without intruding on their privacy and space.
  • Do not take your pets on this little adventurous journey as that will be harmful to the seals and your pets. You won’t know how both creatures will react when they confront each other.
  • Even when spotting the seals around the shores or alongside the beaches, try to maintain a good distance from them without bothering them or scaring them.

Any practice done responsibly will only help uplift the condition of seals around the world. Knowingly or unknowingly harming them or affecting their peace can cause harm to both the parties, that’s why Icelandic officials issue guidelines that need to be followed by every tourist and even local during seal watching. The apt practices have the potential to encourage the seal-watching industry to grow which eventually helps in increasing the population of the endangered species in the country.

Traveling to Iceland promises a fun-packed ride to an unexpectedly adventurous and unpredictable experience. It often works as an escape from a busy lifestyle that revolves around a busy urban road and rushing to work. Being able to spend time in nature’s lap is worth your time and money. In Iceland, you can experience many things, from eating out on the streets to sleeping under the sky to spending your day seal watching, each moment is a treasure that you carry along for the rest of your life. Remember to be grateful for the opportunity and to absorb as much as you can but without affecting or harming the natural habitat. Other than being a sustainable tourist, you should also be responsible for maintaining a healthy environment both around yourselves and the places you aspire to visit. Just remember to have fun and experience what this magnificent nature has to offer.

Ytri Tunga seal colony - Snæfellsnes Peninsula
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