October comes to the end, which means that all big animal divers switch focus from Mexico, where great white shark season comes to the end, to Norway, where the orca season begins.
Despite killer whales are present in all oceans around the globe, Norway keeps the name of world capital of orca snorkeling. When I first time visited Lofoten islands in 2013 onboard Sula, it was kind of exotic travel destination. Today, plenty of companies offer this programme. Is it good or bad? Time will tell.
So, I decided to join the trend and show you the video from our February’s adventure with Northern Explorers. There are moments when DLSR refuses to focus underwater because of the lack of light, so GoPro is the only way to record what’s happening. Murphy’s Law still works perfectly, so those failures usually happen in during the most exciting moments, when orca comes close to you, look eye-in-the-eye, circles around, test you with the clicks. These special moments you can find in this video. Enjoy.
P.S. Orca snorkeling gifts you with one of the most exciting and emotional moments in lifetime. I will definitely come back to Norway, and I can strongly recommend it to everyone who haven’t tried it yet.
Orcas have been given a name of Killer whales, but this is a translation mistake. Spanish fishermen called them asesino ballenas, which means killer of whales, but not killer whale. Nevertheless, killer whale sounds right, so whale killers became killer whales. As we know, Norwegian resident orcas feed mostly on herring, not killing any whales, so we could better call them herring killers, or, if you want, even killer herrings.
The man who takes whale pictures underwater. Who is him? How does he look like? The answer you can find on this picture and also in Pulp fiction movie. I’m on the left, and on the right you can see my friend Sven who loves his job. Big thanks to my friend Uli Kunz for permission to publish his picture here.
The last night in Andenes gifted us with beautiful northern lights. Here in Northern Norway you can see northern lights 1-2 times per week during wintertime. There are three main things should be present for seeing northern lights: Earth geomagnetic activity, Sun activity and clear sky. The Northern lights reasearch station is placed near Andenes town. This guys have a small spaceport and they send probes into high atmosphere layers. Spaceport in Arctic, sounds romatic, isn’t it?
We were more lucky on 4th day. Early in the morning we’ve met a pod of orcas who were hunting herring in the shallow water. Why shallow water? The thing is, when the orcas pushing the school of herring, it starting to go deep, where it’s harder to get it. But if cunning whales are able to push the school to the shore, where there is no way to go down for the fish, orcas will have a feast. For us it means a good chance to stay with them into the water.
It’s always very tricky to get very close to the pod, but we did it. They were staying a bit far away, but we still got some moments of magic. For me it was very special moment when I saw 4 orcas diving synchronized.
How to find hunting orcas? The best sign you can spot is the flock of birds circling over the surface. This means that under the surface the feast takes place. Sea birds predate on fish, just the same as underwater predators, including local orcas. Birds differ from one place to another – you can find gannets in South Africa, fregates in Mexico. In Norway it’s very simple – local bird are seagulls.
High whale blows appeared on the horizon. They were looking very different to humpback’s blows, which we have seen a lot this day. After a short time we have realised that it was a large pod of finwhales, about 25 individuals. No one of severe polar explorers on our ship have ever seen such a big group. Finwhales basically travel alone or in small groups up to 6 individuals. If you say that humpback whale is big, than the finwhale is titanic. Surface has been cutted apart by powerfull and smooth backs of the whales, and the sound of their breathing thundered in the air. That time I’ve realise how the legends of sea serpent were born. Pictures can’t give you a feeling of primal power we were gifted to touch.
We didn’t got close to finwhales under the water, but at least we have made an effort to do so. This giants are extremely shy and immediately turn away from the boat, so there are only few underwater pictures of finwhales in the internet.
Facts about finwhales: Finwhale is the second largest animal on the planet, which can grow up to 27 meters long and weight 70 tons. Finwhale and the biggest creature ever, the blue whale, are such evolutionary close species, that they can breed each other and give birth to hybrids. Finwhales prefer feeding on krill, but here in Lofoten they join orcas and humpbacks for the herring feast.