HIGHLIGHTS OF 2023
Happy New Year to all our friends around the world.
A new year has arrived and we are excited to see what 2024 will bring. Even though it's not that long ago since our 2023 season finished, we can't wait to get back out onto Skjálfandi Bay and discover what whales will be visiting us this year.
Which whale species will we encounter first? Will there be many of the humpback whale individuals returning that we know and recognize from the last years? Or will there be many new ones? How many blue whales are going to stop-over in Skjálfandi Bay while on their way further north? Will we have many surprise visitors?
But before really leaving 2023 behind, we would like to take you on a journey through our highlights of last year.
We are happily looking back on a season full of incredible whale encounters, amazing guests and whale enthusiasts from all around the world and a fantastic international team to be proud of.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2023?
In fact, lots was going on already even before our season started.
Our sales department is very busy in the winter months and in January our team attended the Mannamót – Natural Iceland Tourism Workshop in Reykjavík, which is hosted by the regional marketing offices around the country. It aims for tourism companies from rural areas of Iceland to come together and present their products and services in the capital region. In 2023, around 250 companies came together for the occasion.
Shortly after, Gentle Giants was excited to finally be back at Icelandair Mid-Atlantic Tradeshow, after it had been cancelled due to COVID for some years. The event offers the ideal setting for travel industry professionals from around the globe to meet, work together and exchange ideas, right in the midway between Europe and North America, Iceland. Around 1.000 participants gathered together from 23 countries in total.
In January our maintenance team attended the international boat show Boot Düsseldorf in Germany, one of the world's premier boat shows. There they enjoyed several days of getting inspired and keeping up with latest developments, innovations and green solutions in the boat and water sports industry, for our future fleet planning.
AWARDS AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
In February Gentle Giants was recognized for excellence and nominated as one of the top three companies in Iceland for the 2023 Safety Prevention Awards by our insurance company VÍS, for high safety procedures and quality operations. We are very proud of our several awards and nominations that we have received in the past years, both international and national.
At Gentle Giants, we strive to support the local community and therefore in February, we signed an agreement with the local football girls, which supported their training trip to Denmark where they got the chance to meet and compete with professional football teams. More donations followed throughout the year as we proudly supported various projects in our community including sports, music, arts and education activities for children and young people, as well as sponsoring local and international charities for many years.
Later on in the month, our assistant manager Daniel Annisius flew to India and visited his children's home in Kolkata where he was adopted from to Iceland 33 years ago along with other Húsavík children throughout the years. This was his second visit and, in his words, "a great experience to visit the children's home and get to know my origin in Kolkata".
In view of his visit, two companies from Húsavík, Ísfell (Icewear) and Gentle Giants, decided to generously support the children's home with various Icelandic clothing, toys and other equipment that will be of good use for the children.
In the beginning of March, just one month to our season start, our beautiful oak boat Sylvía undertook her annual journey to the drydock in Akureyri, seven hours of sailing away from Húsavík harbour. The journey was as exciting as it could have possibly become as we were greeted by several whale species along the way.
Later that month, Sylvía had undergone some thorough maintenance and beauty treatments and she was finally ready to sail back to her home port, in time to start our season a week after.
THE WHALE WATCHING SEASON STARTS
Time literally flew by and suddenly we found ourselves sailing out on our first whale watching tour of 2023! While we never know what to expect in the first days, last year certainly surpassed all our expectations: Within just one week, eight different whale species showed up in Skjálfandi Bay, among them both the smallest and tallest cetaceans we could possibly find: the tiny harbour porpoise versus the huge blue whale! Other species encountered were fin whales, sperm whales, humpback whale, orcas, white-beaked dolphins and a minke whale.
Throughout the first month, our boats departed almost daily on our two favourite whale watching tours, the GG1 Whale Watching on the traditional oak boats and the GG2 Big Whale Safari and Puffins on our modern RIB speedboats.
As though also high season was approaching and getting closer and closer, lots also happened in the maintenance. One boat after the other was getting ready for the summer. With an outstanding maintenance team working in our workshop throughout the year, every boat received the care it needed, from inside and outside.
As weeks passed by, the bay become livelier by the day. More and more humpback whales returned to their feeding grounds in the cooler waters around Iceland so that we started to see them pretty much daily – oftentimes several individuals per tour.
At the same time all kinds of migratory birds started to show up in their nesting grounds along the coastline, the mountains or islands of the bay. With excitement we spotted the first puffins returning and settling down on Lundey (Puffin Island): summer was finally around the corner!
ADVENTURES IN FLATEY ISLAND
In the end of April we were excited to welcome our first guests in 2023 to Flatey Island. 20 VIP passengers were flown in by four helicopters to spend the afternoon on and around Flatey Island. Upon arrival, they were welcomed with music and a splendid 5-star lunch was served in Smiðjan one of our newly built environmental friendly facilities on the island, followed by sea angling on the calm waters around the island with rich fishing grounds.
In the weeks that followed, we took many groups and individuals to Flatey Island on all kinds of tours; from VIP private luxury to fun trips. We are proud of this paradise of Skjálfandi Bay and our strong roots to the island and look forward to welcome many more to come.
THE BLUE WHALES ARRIVE
In May we were surprised by an unusual high number of blue whales in the outer parts of the bay and the blue whale heaven continued throughout June with sightings of the largest animals on earth almost daily.
Along with these gentle giants came our beloved old friend, the blue-fin hybrid whale. For many years, this individual (a hybrid between blue and fin whale, which can be easily identified on its recognizable dorsal fin) has been coming back to Skjálfandi Bay in the summer, apparently following a similar "schedule" as its slightly larger relatives, the blue whales. Spotting this individual over and over again through the years, is a really special feeling!
LIVELY SUMMER IN HUSAVIK
Also in June, our precious Skjálfandi Bay and the northeast of Iceland were nominated and later considered as a Hope Spot – the first one in all Iceland.
A Hope Spot is defined as any special place that is important to the health of the ocean – literally Earth's blue heart! Such recognition empowers people in their efforts to protect certain marine areas, but in the end, our oceans as a whole. We feel proud and honoured to live in such a special place and to be able to show Skjálfandi Bay and its treasures to you all, to raise awareness about its uniqueness and importance as part of our planet and existence – while hoping for it to continue to strive.
As weeks passed by and high season started, Húsavík got busier by the day as numbers of travellers increased, eager to sail out into Skjálfandi Bay in search for the gentle giants.
The summer months were filled with a million fantastic whale encounters that left us all with lasting memories and stories to tell.
Several times in August (as so often through the last years), the northern bottlenose whales made their annual appearance, but as September started, we were treated with one surprise moment after the other: Besides the humpback and minke whales, suddenly orcas, pilot whales, blue whales and fin whales started to show up, some of them in more than just one occasion.
SUPPORTING THE LOCAL RESCUE TEAM
In the end of September, Húsavík had an occasion to celebrate as Villi Páls, the new boat of the local search and rescue team Björgunarsveitin Garðar finally arrived. Gentle Giants has had very successful cooperation with the Garðar rescue team for many years and we believe safety is of greatest importance when operating our tours. Whilst our crew is of course professionally trained in safety at sea as well as regularly practicing safety during rescue drills, we think it is important that the local search and rescue team Garðar is properly equipped for any emergency that could arise.
FANTASTIC WINTER WHALE WATCHING
The autumn and winter tours proved to be very successful and when ending the season in November, captain Halli and guide Miro counted at least 17 humpback whales, which is indeed very unusual for this time of year. Beautiful light and winter settings created a stunning experience for crew and passengers out on Skjalfandi Bay.
WINTER MAINTENANCE WORK
By the end of the season one boat after the other was taken out of the water to receive their annual maintenance and beauty treatments, to be all shiny and well-functioning once the next season starts.
In December oak boat Sylvía sailed a long journey to Stykkishólmur, on the west coast of Iceland. There she will spend the winter and taken into an indoor dry dock and undergo complete and thorough maintenance, including getting a new modern engine. Traditional oak boats require a lot of careful maintenance and we are proud of giving our boats the best treatment and preserving this important Icelandic cultural heritage.
GREAT TEAM OF GENTLE GIANTS
As in previous years, the "Blue Family" was an incredible team and together strove to give our guests the best experience possible. Over 30 enthusiastic staff members from ten different nationalities – maintenance team, ticket sales, captains, guides, assistants and management – all working together with the same aim and passion for the jobs and the wildlife of Skjálfandi Bay.
It is sure to say that 2023 was successful and unforgettable. Definitely all of us made memories which will stay with us forever and which continue to make us smile while still on land glancing at the ocean.
Giant thanks to all of our passengers, co-operators and staff for having joined us in 2023 and for having made our season so memorable and successful!
We are now looking forward to share season 2024 with you – starting on April 1st!
-Sarah & Daniel