Inspiration / Wildlife / Whales

Whales

Greenland is home to many whales and other marine mammals. You can experience them on a whale safari or perhaps while walking along the coast.

The impressive whales in Greenland

We can guarantee you that you will never forget the sight of these beautiful and incredibly large animals. Experience them as they dive into the depths of the sea with their tails up in the air!

The size of whales is impressive, and these amazing animals have a very special place in Greenlandic society, both in culture and in the old myths and legends.

There are several species of whales in the waters around Greenland, especially during the summer months.

You can see whales in many spots along the Greenland coast. The most common whales you will see are the very large and powerful humpback whales, the slightly smaller and curious minke whales, and Greenland whales.

If you are very lucky, you might see the amazing blue whale, which is the world’s largest mammal. It sometimes swims through Greenlandic waters.

How many different species of whales are there in Greenland?

There are fifteen different species of whales living in Greenland waters, although it is not all of them who stay here all year round.

Most whales you meet in the sea around Greenland swim to the Arctic from the Caribbean Sea. Three species, the beluga whale, the narwhal, and the Greenland whale, live in Greenland’s waters all year round.

In Greenland, you can meet both baleen whales and toothed whales.

Baleen whales

The baleen whales eat smaller animals such as krill or small fish. Instead of upper teeth, the baleen whales have several long, narrow baleen plates, which the whale uses to eat. The baleen whales fill their mouth with water, which they then press out through the baleens using their tongue. Afterward, a lot of small animals are stuck in the baleens providing food for the whales. Moreover, baleen whales always have two blowholes on top of their head.

Among the baleen whales, you will find the humpback whale, the minke whale, the Greenland whale, and of course, the blue whale.

Toothed whales

Toothed whales are characterized by its many small, pointy teeth. They hunt fish, squid or seals and use their teeth to hold on to the food. Contrary to the baleen whales, toothed whales only have one blowhole on top of their head. Among the toothed whales, we find sperm whales, dolphins, killer whales, porpoises, narwhals, and belugas.

 

Greenland whale – the heaviest and oldest

Balaena mysticetus

With a weight of up to 100 tons, the Greenland whale is one of the heaviest whales and one of the species that weighs most among all species of whales in the world. They can be over 250 years old and therefore, one of the animals in the world that can live the longest. In Greenland, they are still surpassed by the Greenland shark, which can be more than 300 years old.

However, it is not only their age that is impressive, because they can reach up to 18 m in length. They are true fighters.

Also, they live in the most beautiful areas of the world, namely the sea around Greenland and Canada.

The Greenland whale is an arctic whale species. In Greenland, they usually swim in the Disco Bay close to Qeqertarsuaq. Your chances of seeing these amazing giants are greatest around April and May.

Humpback whale – The acrobat of the sea

Megaptera novaeangliae

The humpback whales are almost as large as the Greenland whale. They can be close to 18 meters, but they weigh “only” about 30 tons. That is why they are considered to be the acrobats of the sea among the great whales. They often come very close to the boats and are very curious so that you can get some incredible pictures of this amazing animal. When you see a humpback whale jumping and diving with the tail in the air, you will find that it is a truly unique and incredible experience.

The humpback whale is not considered to be particularly elegantly built, and its name comes from having a dorsal fin which resembles a hump.

The humpback whales have huge tail fins, and their very long mitts are the longest in the animal world. The tail can be up to 5-6 meters wide and has a beautiful and characteristic black-and-white pattern on the underside.

You will most often find the humpback whale on Greenland’s west coast near Nuuk, Aasiaat, Ilulissat, and Qeqertarsuaq. However, you will also be able to see them in the water around Sisimiut, Maniitsoq, and Paamiut.

Minke whale

Balaenoptera acutorostrata

The minke whale is one of the smaller whales in the family of baleen whales. Their Greenlandic name is Tikaagullik. It is usually “only” up to 10 meters in length and weighs less than 10 tons. The minke whale can be seen in the fjords and along the coast in South and West Greenland, including the Disco Bay, from May to October.

However, the minke whales have been seen in many places around Greenland at other times of the year.

Acutorostrata, which is the species name of the minke whale, means pointy snout, which also describes them very well. Their fins and stomach have very distinctive white markings that make them easy to identify.

The minke whale can swim quite fast. You may find that they stick their heads up above the water to check their position or even jump up and out of the water.

Minke whales have different personalities. You can meet the curious individuals who will follow the whale watching boat for a long time, while others are shyer and stay a little at a distance. The minke whale is also special in that they do not show their tail fin when diving.

The Narwhal – the whale with the twisted tusk

Monodon monoceros

Narwhal is one of the smaller toothed whales, which is also known for its odd appearance. The whale has a long tooth on its nose. The tusk is twisted, always counter-clockwise, and this tusk is one of the whale’s canine teeth. In rare cases, one may find that the males have two tusks or, very strikingly, none at all. They usually weigh 800-1,600 kilos and can be about three meters long.

A fun fact about the narwhal is that they change color with age. You do not experience this often with whales. You will see that they get lighter, the older they are. The young are blue-gray or black, the adults gray-gray, while the old narwhals are almost white.

In Greenland, the narwhal is most prevalent in the area around the Melville Bay near Qaanaaq, as well as in north-east Greenland. They spend their entire lives in Arctic regions, and it is believed that up to 90 % of the world’s narwhales live near Canada and Greenland.

Narwhal is important in the traditional way of life of the Inuit. Their meat is a delicacy in Greenland, and mattak – the skin from the narwhal – is among the greatest delicacies in Greenland.

The teeth of the narwhals are sought after and formed the basis for the myth of unicorns. You will probably also see beautiful carvings in whale tusks if you visit Greenland’s museums.

The beluga whale

Delphinapterus leucas

Like the narwhal, the beluga whale is one of the small tooth whales. These two species of whales are also related to each other. Beluga whales often live in groups of five to ten animals but are also seen in very large flocks. Their head is flexible and allows them to make different facial expressions, so in some pictures, it looks like they are smiling at the camera.

In Greenland, they are quite common and can be seen in the seas between Maniitsoq and Disco Bay, and in the areas close to Qaanaaq and Upernavik.

The whale becomes lighter with age. The young beluga whales are greyish, while the older whales become whites.

After several studies, scientists have discovered that the beluga whale can mimic human speech

Which whale is the largest in Greenland?

The biggest whale in Greenland is the blue whale, but you have to be very lucky to see it.

We have made a travel guide on whales if you would like to read more. (coming soon)

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