SnORCAling With Killer Whales in Norway

The beauty of the orca is undeniable.  They are frightening to some, and magical to others.  They represent a human connection to nature.  Like dolphins, they are our intelligent mammalian cousins, returned to the sea.  They are creatures born into pods who stay by their mother’s side their entire lives–only leaving briefly to mate.  The orca have culture.  They are extremely intelligent and social creatures who calculate and strategize hunting techniques.

A pod of orcas collecting the herring in the Norwegian Sea

We had seen killer whales in the wild before (near Tromso) and it was amazing.  Tourists and photographers who’ve shot wildlife can relate–the perceived connection one has to an animal going about it’s daily habits with you among them, but largely ignored–is powerful.  We wanted a intimate experience with the creature and getting in the water with them seemed like a no-brainer.

A pod of orcas chasing the herring off shore in Andsnes

Lofoten Opplevelser AS offered the experience we were looking for.  The company is based out of the small town of Andenes, Norway.  With a population under 3,000 inhabitants, Andenes isn’t a well known destination.  For the adventurer, however, it is known for one very important thing.  It’s the world’s only place to snorkel with orca.

Preparing to slip off the RIB boat to snorkel with orcas in the wild

We flew through Tromso to reach Andenes.  We spent one day prior to our orca outing in Tromso to go on a Northern Lights chasing excursion.  The next afternoon we took a short twenty-five minute hop to Andenes.  The small fishing village’s airport was just a few kilometers from our guesthouse but it seemed every walkway and road was covered in ice so we called a taxi.

The small town of Andenes and the surrounding mountains

We stayed in Alma House.  It was a small but quaint, guest house located next to the harbor.

Alma House where we stayed during our visit to AndsnesThe house had two separate upstairs bedroom areas.  We stayed in one of three bedrooms on our side.  Downstairs there was a shared kitchen, dining area, living room and bathroom with a shower.  The house was built in the 1800’s and had an old world charm about it.  We were there for three evenings and three days.  The prices in Norway are high, so to cut costs we bought groceries at the local store only a few blocks down the main street.

Kristina Apartments and Alma House in Andenes

The weather was rough the morning of our excursion.  We walked (carefully over the icy sidewalks) to the Andrikken Hotel where we were to meet the Lofoten Opplevelser AS crew.  The entire way, heavy winds and rain gusted.  When we arrived, around 9 a.m., the crew told us the weather wasn’t promising and the seas were likely too rough to go out but the final call was to be made by 11 a.m.  Winds picked up to 21 meters per second (46 mph) and they officially canceled that day’s trip.

Mural of whales on the wall in AndenesViews of the main lighthouse in Andenes, Norway

The next morning we were much luckier.  The weather was calm and the excursion was to go as planned.  After a brief introduction, we were led to a room below the hotel where we were outfitted with a dry-suit, warm booties and wet-suit gloves.  We only wore thermals under our dry-suits.  We left our parkas, snow pants and valuables at the hotel, we only took our camera gear we were willing to get wet.  We were taken on a short van ride up the street to the harbor where a Rigid Inflatable Boat awaited us.

The RIB boat we took to snorkel with the orcas

The seas were fairly calm and the boat ride was nice.  We quickly sped out past the harbor’s break water and within minutes saw orca feeding on schools of herring.  The orcas’ long dorsal fins reached high into air as they swam near the surface and dove under like schools of dolphins.  After approaching the feeding orcas the crew idled the boat, then turned off the engines.

Orcas swimming close to our RIB boat as we patiently waited to slide into the waterWe sat with our legs over the edge of the boat patiently waited–swaying with the waves.  The feeding killer whales were swimming toward our boat.  When they were just about under us one of the crew gave the ok and we all, as gently as we could, slipped over the boats edge into the icy waters.  We tried not to thrash about or make unnecessary commotion under the water.

Watching the orcas swim by as we watched under the water in our dry suits

Visibility was good.  The huge orcas swam gracefully past us.  It was incredible.  The only thing between the pod of apex predators and us was a few meters of frigid water.

Snorkeling with orcas in Andenes, Norway

The dry-suits kept us afloat at the water’s surface.  After the orca pod had left we waited for our boat to swing around and pick us up.  Hoisting our wet bodies up onto the boat with our camera equipment wasn’t easy but we repeated the same process a number of times: position the boat in front of a pod, wait, slide into the water and photograph the magnificent creatures as they swam past.

Snorkeling with wild orcas in Northern Norway

After a short boat right back to the harbor, and a van ride back to the hotel, we changed out of the dry-suits and were offered tea and coffee before we left.  The crew was nice and helpful.  Everything seemed safe and ecologically friendly.  We really enjoyed our excursion and we were lucky enough to have a successful outing.  We definitely recommend this company to other adventurers and animal lovers.

The harbour where we departed for our orca snorkeling adventure

The next day we were killing time in the morning–after our 11 am checkout until our 16:30 flight back to Tromso.

Exploring the beauty of AndenesViews of the mountains in Andenes, Norway We walked by the tourist information office and  went in to take a closer look at some interesting art pieces we saw through the window.  As luck would have it, according to the young woman working inside, a couple of male orcas were feeding just off a local rocky point called Sponna about four kilometers away.

Orcas collecting the herring off shore in Andenes, NorwayWe didn’t have a rental car so we called the local taxi driver.  We only had a few hours of early afternoon sunlight left and we had no idea how long the orca would be there but we took a chance and it paid off.  At least four orca were feeding a few hundred feet from the shore in a small cove.  Locals and tourists parked their cars along the side of the road and clambered over the rocks with their cell phones and cameras on tripods to document the rare event.

A pod of orca's collecting the herring off shore in Andenes, NorwayIt was fantastic.  The animals swam in circles, rounding the herring into balls and stunned them with slaps from their tails.  The repeated the same behaviour for hours.  We were lucky to have witnessed it.

A pod of orcas swimming off shore near Andenes, NorwayThe orcas swim sideways to stun the herring with the white on their bellies to easily ball them up to eat

Finally, when the sun had gone down, we called our friendly taxi driver again and headed to the airport.  We’d had our fill of orca fun for the week but I suspect we’ll seek out similar adventures in the future.

Blown away by the beauty of Andenes, Norway

 

 

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