Orca season begins!

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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.

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What fears the ocean’s top predator and who is the biggest carnivorous fish?

 

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Great white shark was one of the main targets in our South Africa trip. I was lucky, as always – the orcas have arrived to False Bay a week before us, and all the Great whites and cowsharks were gone. Do I love orcas? Yes I do, but not when they cause problems with the sharks! Such stories happen from time to time in several places in the world, including Australia and New Zealand. It’s pretty obvious for me who is the ocean’s top predator. Great whites always avoid the orcas.

So, we had a plan to meet great whites in False Bay, there weren’t any so we went to Gaansbai. This is the bay where you can always find great whites, which are the main touristic attraction and the main city-forming factor.

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But let me describe the process and the sharks. It was my first encounter with the great whites, and it impressed me a lot. The viz was something like 2 meters, so watching sharks from surface was not the worst option, but I spent the most time in the water. The guys begin with chumming, and when the sharks are there, they start to attract it closer to the cage by dropping and pulling a rope with a tuna head, which is considered to be the most delicious food for sharks.

Great white shark is a massive and fat fish. It swims slowly to the bait, but when grabs, it starts to fight in attempt to tear it off the rope. This fight is very impressive when you are inside the cage and you can see and feel how the shark hardly hits the cage with it’s body and tail, with a feeling of a sledgehammer. Sometimes it suddenly appears from the murky water following the bait, with it’sl primal fury and great power. A breathtaking scene.

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Despite the local sharks are not the biggest great whites (3-4 meters comparing to 6 meters-long giants in Guadalupe island), it’s much more impressive than any other shark I’ve seen before, because you can feel it’s great strength and power, same as in twisted spring ready to strike. That day we saw four sharks near the boat, which was unforgettable. 

The video is not as cool as you can film on Guadalupe, but it gives you the feeling of the process of being inside the cage.

BTW, did you know that great white is not the biggest carnivorous shark, as many people think? The first place is held by the legendary Greenland shark with a result of 7,5 meters. The same sized smalltooth sawfish is the biggest carnivorous ray. Comparing to this fishes, the great white is not such a giant.

Herring killers

Herring killers

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.

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In the water with orcas.

In the water with orcas.

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.

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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.

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For whom the ravens circle

For whom the ravens circle

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.

 

Orcas in Norway 2016. First day at sea.

Orcas in Norway 2016. First day at sea.

Our fingers were crossed for the weather. And it worked! On the second day we left the shore and headed north for the whales. Arctic morning is dunk, ship covered with snow, waves, short briefing and the hope for encoutering whales. Probalay, this feeling of hope is even stronger than the excitment of encounter itself. You feel this hope from the very begginig of planning the trip up to this special day when everything should happen.

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And here are the first orcas. We have met them in half-an-hour way from the harbour! Three years ago it was the end of 4th day.

Several pods passed our ship, but we decided not to chase them. Those whales were traveling, which means you can’t get really close to them – they will just pass you on high speed and dissapear in the blue. What we really needed was a pod of hunting whales.

We met a single male orca near the fishing trawler, which is not unusual – orcas are often feeding on fish which falls out of trawling nets. The strange thing was that the ship was not fishing that time, just standing on one place, but the whale was keeping close. He was behaving agressive, tailing and breaching, so we decided not to enter the water. It’s generally known that you should avoid getting close to the single male orcas and to goup of sleeping orcas.  

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We have seen a great illsutration for the plastic pollution of the ocean, which became a big problem for our planet. Even the most dangerous and smart predators in the ocean suffer from plastic.

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