Westman Islands, Iceland

Jul 16, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer

With the guidance of Captain Aaron Wood and the local pilot, we sailed into the narrow harbor opening of Heimaey, Westman Islands, as the sun broke through the clouds. Heimaklettur, or home cliff, welcomed us with a stunning vista of Icelandic sheep balancing on sheer cliffs. 

Some of the guests took a panoramic tour of Heimaey to visit old Viking ruins and one of the windiest points in the northern hemisphere—the southern tip, Stórhöfði. Others climbed up the newest volcano cinder cone in Iceland, Eldfell, which is the result of an eruption that occurred in 1973. 

Words cannot begin to describe the grace and magic we experienced as National Geographic Explorer danced between islands on the afternoon of the last day of our voyage. Just as Madalena Patacho was about to begin her presentation on marine mammals of Iceland, killer whales were spotted in the distance. What timing! At first we saw a single male, identified by the tall, wide dorsal fin. 

But soon we found ourselves in a feeding frenzy, surrounded by thousands of feeding gannets and dozens upon dozens of killer whales. The bow, the bridge, and the top deck were filled with excited observers as we watched the whales. Time simply stopped. The moment was utterly sublime—something we will never forgot. We finished our last day with cocktails and an incredible sunset as National Geographic Explorer made her way back to Reykjavik for disembarkation the next morning.

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About the Author

Karen Velas


Karen Velas cares deeply about protecting the environment and its wildlife.  Over the last 15 years, she has been involved with numerous conservation projects, including working as the Lead Project Coordinator on the California Condor Project with The National Audubon Society, managing projects in the flooded rice fields of California’s Central Valley with The Nature Conservancy and surveying the distant cliffs of Iceland to aid in puffin recovery with the South Iceland Research Centre.

About the Photographer

Jamie Coleman

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Jamie is from England. He grew up in Oxford, about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK, yet somehow decided he would work in marine biology and conservation. Ever since he reached his teens, he has dedicated time to this passion, working and volunteering in various roles on nature reserves and in aquariums. It was no surprise that in 2007, he left home to study marine biology at the University of Newcastle.

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