Growth in the demand for whale watching tours in Iceland has exploded in recent years. The number of passengers has grown from 2,200 in 1995 to 174,000 in 2012.
Nine companies currently operate whale watching tours in Iceland. According to Morgunblaðið, a special license is not needed from the Icelandic Transport Authority when establishing a whale watching company. However, a permit to be able to carry passengers on the boat must be granted.
Sigurður Ægisson, whale enthusiast and nature lover, warns of the downsides of such rapid growth. “There has been enormous growth but we have to be careful not to get caught up in greed.”
According to Sigurður, some whale watching operators continue to go out even in bad weather to try to meet their schedule but return with seasick passengers.
“Often passengers are not accustomed to seamanship and may even have small children with them,” he said, adding that running whale watching trips comes with a lot of responsibility and thus operators must look beyond the issue of making profits.
The companies which Morgunblaðið spoke with all reported a good whale watching season with increased demand and good viewing rates. Freyr Antonsson of Arctic Sea Tours in Dalvík stated that humpback whales have been spotted on 90 percent of trips for the third year in a row.
Humpbacks were listed as an endangered species in 1963 but the stock has greatly increased in recent years and is now believed to number 15,000 animals in Icelandic waters.