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Introduction

Summer is truly the prime season for boat tours in Greenland. Winding through the intricate maze of islands and small canals while the warm sun energizes you from overhead, a boat trip can be reminiscent of sailing in the Italian Riviera. But catch sight of a humpback whale or the colorful wooden houses along the coast and realize that, in fact, you are sailing at the top of the world in spectacular Greenland. Whale watching is carried out in both West and East Greenland. Offers include both dedicated whale watching trips, or general sight-seeing/fishing trips with possibilities to see whales. Whale watching is more developed during summer in Disko Bay and southwards in West Greenland and in Tasiilaq, East Greenland. These are also the places where large whales are most abundant during summer. An area where whale watching could possibly increase is Uummannaq fjord, where there are whales in summer, but it is far from the usual tourist destinations.

Target species, peak times of year and locations:

Most whale watching is carried out during summer, and the main target species is the humpback whale. However, there are good opportunities to watch minke whales and fin whales in locations such as South Greenland, Tasiilaq (East Greenland) and Disko Bay. There is a unique possibility of observing bowhead whales during winter and spring (February – May) in Disko Bay, especially from Qeqertarsuaq.

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Species

County/region

Towns or harbours

Platform (motorized boat, swim-with, aerial)

Peak time of year to observe

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Nuup Kangerlua,

Tasiilaq area

Nuuk

Kulusuk, Tasiilaq

Boat

Summer, but not every year

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

West and East Greenland

West: most larger places from Disko Bay and southwards

East: Tasiilaq

Boat

Summer

Fin whale (Balenoptera physalus)

Disko Bay, South Greenland, Tasiilaq area

Most

Boat

Summer

Minke whale (Balenoptera acutorostrata)

Disko Bay, South Greenland, Tasiilaq area

Most

Boat

Summer

Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus)

Disko Bay

Qeqertarsuaq, Ilulissat

Boat

Winter and spring (February – May)

 Additional information about whale watching opportunities in Greenland can be found on the following websites:

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Guidelines

Voluntary guidelines proposed by Visit Greenland, in collaboration with tour operators and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (Greenland Tourism 2011):

  • Slow down to “no wake” when within 500 m of the whale
  • Do not approach the whale directly from behind or in front
  • Do not actively move closer to the whale than 50 m

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Research on Whale watching in Greenland

The Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (GINR) carried out a number of studies in 2006 – 2010 on humpback whales in Nuuk Fjord, which included the effect of whale watching on the behavior of humpback whales, and the potential effect of whaling on the local whale watching activities (Boye 2009, Boye et al , 2010, 2011 & 2014).

Tourists, tour operators and locals are encouraged to send ID photographs of humpback whales to GINR via email to pukkelhval@natur.gl (https://natur.gl/foto-identifikation-af-pukkelhvaler/?lang=en)


For more information about whales and whale-watching in Greenland please see:

 

Boye T (2009) Home, sweet home? Habitat use of humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) in Nuuk Fjord, Greenland, with implications for commercial exploitations. MSc thesis for the University of Aarhus.

Boye, TK, Simon, M, Madsen, P (2010) Habitat use of humpback whales in Godthaabsfjord, West Greenland, with implications for commercial exploitation. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 90: 1529-1538. doi:10.1017/S0025315410000755

Boye, TK, Simon, M, Ugarte, F (2011) A note on guide-lines for sustainable whale watching in Greenland, with spe-cial focus on humpback whales. A report for the Greenland Tourism and Business council and Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq Pinngortitaleriffik, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. http://www.natur.gl/rådgivning/havpattedyr

Boye TB, Simon M, Witting L (2014) How may an annual removal of humpback whales from Godthaabsfjord, West Greenland, affect the within fjord sighting rate? Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 14: 51-56

Greenland Tourism (2011) Whale Watching Guidelines. https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wwhandbook/guideline-documents/Greenland_whale-watching-guidelines_English_Danish.pdf

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