The call of the wild

Given the unique topography and climate, the wildlife of the Westfjords is of great interest to most visitors. Diverse species of birds, seals, whales, dolphins, and the Arctic fox are everywhere. All you need is some planning, efficient guidance and patience.

Here are some of the most commonly found fauna.


One of the most fascinating mammals of the sea, seals can be found throughout the Westfjords.
The harbour seal may be seen along the shoreline all through the year soaking in the sun at low tide (high tide means they are busy hunting food).
Bigger than the harbour seal and weighing an impressive 300kg, is the grey seal. They are less commonly seen as they stay at sea for longer periods, which is why they are also called utselur (or deep sea seal) in Icelandic.
These are the only two species who breed in Iceland but there are 4 others who visit.

The fertile waters of the magnificent Isafjordur Bay area is the perfect breeding ground for seals. You can stop by to see them on a self-drive or also spot them on one of our kayaking tours in the bay.

Another fabulous spot to see them is Raudasandur (or red sand beach) where the ‘red’ coloured sand contrasts with the blue of the Atlantic Ocean and imposing black cliffs in the distance. Holding pride of place here are the colonies of seals in groups of twenties, thirties and even hundreds. These animals are usually affable and curious so you can get some amazing photos at close range.
You can take a tour there from Patreksfjordur.

Cruise ship travellers can check the Isafjardardjup Bay private tour from Isafjordur and the tours to Raudasandur beach from Patreksfjordur.

The Icelandic Seal Centre, just outside the Westfjords in North West Iceland, is an educational, information and research centre dedicated to seals.

seals westfjords


From the playful humpback to the minke, orca, pilot and sperm whales and the delightfully social dolphins; the waters around the Westfjords are a great place to go whale watching. You can sometimes see them from the shore so keep an eye on the ocean as you drive through the fjords.

Among the best places to spot whales would be Hólmavík where a sea safari around Steingrímsfjörður fjord is just what you need. Ísafjörður is also a rising star in the whale watching world, with sightings on almost every trip in summer 2023 (the most recent data at the time of writing).

Do be sure to pull on the warm overalls, footwear and even mittens provided.

Arctic fox

Iceland’s only native land mammal, the hardy Arctic Fox, has been here long before settlement and can be seen all over the Westfjords.

A nature reserve since 1975, one of Hornstrandir’s leading lights is this elusive but adorable animal. This is the one place that hunting the fox is banned, thereby ensuring the safety and survival of the cubs. The only way to explore Hornstrandir is to travel there by boat and the journey over is a great way to experience the isolation of this place and its impressive landscape.
We have daily tours to Hornstrandir with a few especially focused on the fox.

The Arctic fox can also be spotted closer to Isafjordur in the trails around town and the Isafjordur Bay area. Our expert guides keep track of the dens and foxes’ movements so you can request for a private tour to see them.

For those with an academic frame of mind, the Arctic Fox Centre is a non-profit research and exhibition centre in Súðavík, focusing on the Arctic fox. It has a wonderful in-house exhibition focusing on the biology and history of the fox, the struggle between man and fox, consequences of fox farming and fox hunting. The Centre also promotes research programmes on the fox.
Oh, and they have two rescued foxes on site for you to meet!


Iceland is truly a paradise for bird lovers! With birds from both continents and the Arctic, the list of recorded bird species in Iceland exceeds 400.
The best time to spot birds is generally April to September, with May to August being peak. During the summer, you can see the migratory birds arriving, settling, building nests, feeding and coaching their young for survival. The long daylight gives you 20-24 hours to admire these winged beauties.

The Westfjords has the tallest birdcliffs in Iceland – Latrabjarg, Hornbjarg and Haelavikurbjarg, the latter two in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. From the puffin to the guillemot to the fulmar, here’s where you can find birds by their hundreds of thousands.

Although the puffin is much loved by travellers, the arctic tern deserves a special mention – Boasting of the longest migration route, these little birds can travel 80,000kms in a year from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back!

We offer daily tours to Hornstrandir and various other birdlife tours.

puffin westfjords

Common invader

Through no fault of their own, Iceland is also home to the naturalised mink.

Imported to Iceland from Norway in the 1930s, it escaped from fur farms over the decades and is seen as an invasive species.
These beautiful, sleek creatures (looking a little like weasels, ferrets, or otters from a distance) are tenacious hunters and survivalists. They thrive on native birds and their eggs, as well as fish, making them a sworn enemy of conservationists.
The government established a bounty and required towns to have a mink hunter to eradicate and control their population. As we say, though: not their fault.

Fun fact: At the peak, Iceland had more than 85,000 captive mink and 70 mink farms.


Uncommon invaders

The polar bear is not native to Iceland but sometimes comes adrift on sea ice from Greenland. The earliest mention of a polar bear in Iceland is in the Landnámabók (Book of Settlements) and on average every five to ten years, an unfortunate lost polar bear has washed ashore – most recently in 2016.

Half starved after the long journey, the majestic bear has few menu options upon arrival apart from sheep, or possibly people. Because of this, their arrival has never been a cause for celebration, and it is with heavy hearts that the beasts are shot. Attempts have sometimes been made to capture them and return them home, but things invariably do not go as per plan and the bear ends up dead anyway. Although unfortunate, It is worth keeping in mind that hunting polar bears is permitted in East Greenland.

polar bear

A more frequent visitor, and increasingly so, is the Atlantic walrus who also comes from Greenland and sometimes northern Norway or potentially Canada;
Iceland used to be home to a special subspecies of walrus, which became extinct around 1100 AD, most likely due to overhunting by humans.

Opportunities galore for some truly amazing photography await bird and animal lovers, but always keep in mind that this is a nature-proud country which is big on conservation efforts.

Top tip
Listen to your guide, wear the appropriate clothing and footwear, and do not get too close to any creature, no matter how friendly they seem. These are wild animals, and there are other dimensions to their personalities, other than being ‘cute’, irrespective of what cartoons and toy stores project them to be.

Scroll to Top