Swimming with orcas in Norway is an incredible experience and was an absolute dream come true. The beauty of the orca is undeniable. They are born into pods and stay by their mother’s side their entire lives, only leaving briefly to mate. Orcas are extremely intelligent and social creatures who calculate and strategize hunting techniques. I was able to watch this first hand while swimming with orcas in Norway and it was truly amazing.
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How to Go Swimming with Orcas in Norway
Norway is one of the only places in the world where you can go swimming with orcas in the wild. While there are many laws around the world prohibiting swimming with orcas, this law does not exist in Norway. However, there are many rules that companies have to abide by when offering these excursion and taking visitors out to snorkel with orcas. The top priority is the safety of the orcas and the safety of the snorkelers.
Good to Know: Since orcas are wild animals there is no guarantee that you will see them or be able to swim with them in the wild. Unfortunately you will not be refunded if you do not have any sightings. You will be refunded if the trip is cancelled due to inclement weather conditions. This happened to us the first day which is why I also recommend booking multiple days of snorkeling with orcas.
Where to Go Snorkeling with Orcas in Northern Norway
There are a few different locations in northern Norway where you will find tour companies offering excursions to go snorkeling with Orcas. I personally used a company called Lofoten Opplevelser AS when they were based out of the small, fishing village Andenes.
As of 2020, Lofoten Opplevelser is offering their orca safaris & snorkeling with orcas excursions out of Sørkjosen in Reisafjord. The location has changed due to the lack of herring that is passing through the Andfjorden near Andenes, Norway. Because of this they were seeing fewer Orcas and therefore decided to change their base location to now be north of Tromsø.
Good to Know: This doesn’t mean that the location might not change again in the future. Therefore, before booking flights or hotels you should confirm with the tour company where they will be based and departing from for the excursions.
Lofoten Opplevelser Snorkeling with Orcas Info:
- Duration: 2-3 hours
- Cost: NOK 2500 ($265 USD)
There is another reputable company called Sea Safari Andenes which offers the orca safaris and snorkeling excursions with the killer whales in the winter. Usually they are also based out of Andenes but have changed their location due to the lack of herring in the Andfjorden. For the current season they are running their tours out of Skjervøy. Many of these companies may also change locations halfway through the season depending on the feeding patterns of the orcas and humpback whales. Therefore it is always best to contact the company to receive confirmation of their snorkeling departure location for the season before booking any tickets.
sea safari andenes Snorkeling with Orcas Info:
- Duration: 2-3 hours
- Cost: NOK 1800 ($190 USD)
Swimming With Orcas: What is it Like?
Out of the three days I stayed in Andenes I booked two of them to go snorkeling with orcas. On the morning of my first departure day the weather was rough with very strong winds. There is always the possibility that your trip could be cancelled due to inclement weather so keep that in mind when booking.
Nevertheless, I walked along the icy sidewalks to the meeting point at the Andrikken Hotel to meet the Lofoten Opplevelser AS crew. The entire way, heavy winds and rain gusted.
After arriving at 9 a.m. the crew informed everyone that the weather and the seas were likely too rough to go out. They made the final call by 11 a.m so we all waited around inside the hotel. Unfortunately the winds picked up to 21 meters per second (46 mph) and they officially canceled that day’s trip.
Tip: Always plan and book more than one day of swimming with orcas because the weather is unpredictable and a trip could be canceled on short notice.
Luckily, the weather was calm the following morning and the excursion was to go as planned.
When you arrive at the meeting point you will first be given a brief introduction by the staff. This will include safety tips for the excursion and information about the orcas. Afterwards you will be taken to the changing room to be outfitted with a dry-suit, warm booties, wet-suit gloves and a cap.
You can leave all of your belongings including your parkas, snow pants and valuables at the hotel. Just make sure to take your camera equipment or anything you are willing to get wet. From the meeting point you will be taken to the harbor by van to board the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) for your excursion.
During my trip the seas were fairly calm and the boat ride was very pleasant. Almost as soon as we left the harbor we started to see orcas in the fjords 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 and turned off the engines.
We all sat with our legs over the edge of the RIB boat patiently waiting, swaying with the waves. The feeding killer whales were swimming towards 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.
Once you are in the water you have to be very still and quiet by not making an unnecessary commotion. The dry suit will keep you afloat at the surface of the water so you can just enjoy watching the orcas swimming by.
I was very fortunate that visibility was good on the day of my excursion and I could see the orcas clearly. The huge orcas swam gracefully past our group and it was incredibly magical moment. The only thing between the pod of apex predators and us was a few meters of frigid water.
After the orca pod swam past us 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.
After swimming with orcas you’ll take a short boat right back to the harbor. The van will pick you back up and take you to the hotel to change out of the dry suit and collect your belongings.
The Lofoten Opplevelser crew were professional, friendly and extremely helpful. Swimming with orcas and the entire encounter seemed safe and ecologically friendly. This was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I highly recommend snorkeling with orcas if you get the chance.
What to Wear & Bring for Snorkeling with Orcas in Norway
You will be given a dry suit to wear for your swimming with orcas excursion which will keep you nice and toasty in the frigid waters of northern Norway. Luckily with a dry suit you are able to wear normal clothes underneath which you will absolutely want to do. The best clothing to wear under the dry suit are:
- Thermal underwear of pants and long sleeve shirt (wool, merino and fleece are the best)
- Thick wool socks
- A fleece jacket or wool sweater (my favorite brand for wool clothing is SmartWool or IceBreakers)
You can add an extra layer of pants if you need to but you also want to make sure that you aren’t too hot as well. Your guides will help you decide how much clothing underneath the drysuit is necessary but bring some extra pieces just in case. You will also be given a pair of gloves and a cap to cover your head. The neoprene is very thick on the cap and gloves but they will still get wet. Your head, face and hands will be exposed to the water which will be very cold.
Do not go snorkeling with orcas if you suffer from any medical condition which prevents you from being in frigid water. You also need to be a fairly good swimmer and confident in the water. You should also be familiar with using a snorkel and mask. Snorkeling with orcas is not suitable for a beginner swimmer or someone who has never snorkeled before. It can actually be very dangerous for an inexperienced swimmer or snorkeler and you will most likely not be allowed to go if you have no prior experience.
Exploring Andenes & Seeing More Orcas
If you have extra time in Andenes, or wherever the swimming with orcas excursions are based out of, take some time to explore the surrounding area. Norway is a gorgeous country and the regions in the north offer some incredible landscapes and fjord views.
On my last day in Andenes, I decided to walk around town and explore some of the quaint buildings and sights. Luckily I went inside the tourist information office and was informed about a small pod of orcas nearby. Turns out, a couple of male orcas were feeding just off a local rocky point called Sponna about four kilometers away.
Arriving at Sponna I was at least four orcas 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.
The orcas swam in circles, rounding the herring into balls and stunned them with slaps from their tails. The repeated the same behavior for hours and I felt so lucky to have witnessed it.
When to Go Swimming with Orcas in Northern Norway
The season to go snorkeling with orcas typically runs from the end of November until the beginning of February. This is when the Orcas will be in the fjords and you have the highest chance of an encounter.
I went during January because research showed that January in Andenes was typically the best time for stable weather. Since the weather plays an important part in whether a trip will run or not you want to make sure you are there during the right time.
However, the season and months can change ever so slightly depending on the pattern of the herring. Therefore it is always best to contact the company and ask them which months the season runs for that year. Most likely they will also update it on their website so you can always check there as well.
How to Get to Andenes, Norway
Andenes is the northernmost town on the island of Andøya, located in the Vesterålen islands in northwestern Norway. You can easily reach Andenes by taking a domestic flight within Norway into the Andøya (Andenes) Airport (ANX). Depending on where you are flying from you may have a short connection in either Tromsø or Bodø.
When I visited Andenes I was traveling from Tromsø so the journey was a quick 30 minute flight and cost less that $200 USD round-trip. I combined a trip to Andenes with Tromsø to chase the northern lights, go dog sledding and partake in other outdoor adventures.
The Andenes airport is very small and is located just a few kilometers from the center of the small fishing village. You can easily walk to your guesthouse unless the roads are covered in ice and snow. Since I visited in January to go swimming with orcas, the roads and sidewalks were covered in ice so I opted for a taxi.
Where to Stay in Andenes, Norway
There are many hotels and guesthouses in Andenes where you can stay for the duration of your visit. I personally stayed at the cute and quaint Kristina Apartment & Alma House guesthouse. Located near the harbor, the guesthouse has bedrooms in 2 houses, each with a shared kitchen and bathroom. .
Kristina Apartments & Alma House has two separate upstairs bedroom areas. I stayed in one of three bedrooms on my side of the house. Downstairs there is a shared kitchen, dining area, living room and bathroom with a shower.
Having a kitchen is very convenient if you are looking to save some costs or travel on a tighter budget. There is a local grocery shop nearby called Bunnpris Storgata where you can pick up some food and cook yourself. It’s no secret that the prices in Norway are high, therefore this is one of the best ways to cut down on costs while you are here.
The cozy house was built in the 1800’s and has an adorable old world charm about it. Most likely you’ll be sharing the house with other travelers who are also there to go snorkeling with orcas!
I stayed in the Kristina Apartments & Alma House during my 3 days in Andenes and would highly recommend this accommodation for your travels.
How to Get to Sørkjosen, Norway
Sørkjosen is a small village in northern Norway located along the Reisafjorden. The easiest way to reach Sørkjosen is to take a domestic flight within Norway. Most flights will have a short connection in Tromsø and then an additional 25 minute flight from there. The airport is located only 1.5 kilometers from the center of town and is a less than 5 minute drive.
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WHAT CAMERA GEAR DO I USE?
- Main Camera: Sony A7III
- Wide angle lens: Sony G Master 16-35mm f/2.8
- Zoom lens: Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
- Prime lens: Sony 85mm f/1.8
- Secondary Camera: Canon 6D Mark II
- Canon wide angle lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L
- Canon lens: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L
- Underwater camera: Leica X-U
- Camera with gimbal: DJI Osmo Pocket & Underwater Housing
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro 2
- Camera Bag: Polar Pro Drone Trekker
- External Hard Drive: LaCie 2 TB rugged mini external hard drive