Orcas in Norway – Underwater & Under Northern Lights

Norway is a country famous for its beauty – dramatic fjords, soaring mountains and of course the infamous northern lights. What is less well known are the visiting orcas, the largest gathering of its kind in the world. In January this year, I joined Waterproof Expeditions on board the cosy M/V Malmo to experience the orcas for myself.

 

 

Visiting schools of herring entice the orcas into the fjords every year between November and February. Around this time there are also many large groups of humpback whales, and it’s also possible to encounter white-tailed eagles and the northern lights.  At this time of year, the average temperature is a refreshing -3° C,  and the water usually a much warmer 5° C, so it’s not an expedition for the faint-hearted. Once you see an orca under the water though, all thoughts of cold disappear in the magic of the moment (the specialised dry suits also help). The behavior of orcas here in Norway, resulting from the spring-schooling herring & mackerel, makes it one of the best places in the world to encounter these incredible ocean predators.

The daylight hours were spent following the herring schools and seeking interactions with the whales, wherever we found them we suited up and went to get a closer look under the water. The nights were spent listening to informative talks onboard the M/V Malmo, and of course photographing the northern lights. The M/V Malmo is a historical expedition yacht, a legitimate piece of maritime history built in 1943 (but renovated to be comfortable for our adventures). Spending a week on the boat like this is a good way to ensure encounters with the whales.

As with all wildlife expeditions, you never know what to expect. So much is dependent on weather conditions, and of course the behaviour of the animals you hope to encounter. Orca are particularly hard to see underwater, despite being found in every ocean in the world. The often misnamed ‘killer whales’ are in fact a large dolphin, and have never been known to harm a human in the wild (although in captivity, confined to small pools, is another story). While feeding in Norway they sometimes work together, herding herring to the surface in a tight ball and then slapping and stunning them with their tails. This ‘carousel feeding’ is just one example of an incredibly intelligent animal working together in close-knit family groups. A pod normally consists of 5-30 whales, led by females and with a defined social hierarchy. Each family group has its own dialect (varied language) and often unique feeding habits.

Norway has a history of adventure – home to renowned explorer Amundsen (the first person to reach the South Pole), birthplace of skiing, and with a law that protects people’s rights to roam & to wild camping (the Allemannsretten). Unfortunately, it’s one of few countries in the world that continue to hunt whales, despite the International Whaling Commissions ban on whaling globally. The good news is that supporting industries like this, which prove that a whale is much more valuable alive than dead, help push to end Norway’s whaling industry.

This trip was an incredible wildlife encounter set against an amazing backdrop. After a lot of time spent in the warm waters of Tonga with humpback whales, this was a completely unique experience for me.  I’m looking forward to going back next year!

 

orcas norway promotional image scott portelli

Want to join an orca expedition?

 

heat run humpback whales tonga

Whales, whales and more whales

The 2018 Humpback whale season is about to kick off and as we get closer to seeing these majestic gentle giants, I can’t help but think of some of the truly amazing encounters we had last season. After 17 years taking people to swim with whales, I am still pleasantly surprised by the multitude of different behaviours I observe that have rarely been seen before. Last year we had baby whales licking their lips with their big frilly tongues, adult interactive whales that would spy-hop inches in front of us, false killer whales trailing the boat, pilot whale pods extending for kilometers across the ocean. So much to see in a season.

But I think the highlight would have been the 15 plus Humpback whales pursuing each other in what is called a ‘heat run’. The heat run is the ultimate wildlife encounter, multiple whales competing for a female which can last for hours or even days. Males show a multitude of behaviours while in a heat run: bubble netting, open mouth gulping, physical contact, loud acoustic sounds, it is truly one of nature’s great events. After 17 years I have documented some of the most common and unusual behaviour seen by Humpbacks in the region, but it is truly heart-thumping and adrenaline-pumping action to be a part of.

Check out the footage capturing this amazing behaviour above and below the surface:

rolex scholar melanie brown working on the Tongan fluke collective

A Mel O Drama

So, I had the privilege of hosting the 2017 Rolex scholar Melinda Brown for a Month in Tonga. as part of her year long program she joined us for a month to work with me on the Tongan Fluke Collective, some coral gardening projects and plastic pollution education, oh and of course she came to swim with the whales. the time went fast but we did so much and I am glad she had the opportunity to join us on location.

Check out her blog on the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society, here’s a short snippet from the introduction:
“A column of mist pierces the horizon, followed by a deep unearthly ‘fwisssssh’, as if the ocean itself has come up for air. A large dark shape slides through the ocean. Its body slicing through the waves. It lifts its tail out of the water. This creature that we call whale has incredible origins. It has an incredible evolutionary path it has taken. The journey to become a whale was long and complex. To understand why cetaceans fascinate me so much, I need to tell you their evolutionary tale first.”

 

Rolex scholar Melanie Brown editing photos for the Tongan Fluke Collective

Rolex scholar Melanie Brown editing photos for the Tongan Fluke Collective

 

 

Vessel for snorkelling with orca in Norway Waterproof-Expeditions

Snorkeling with Orcas in Norway Jan 2018 (2 Spaces left on this tour)

Snorkeling with Orcas  

Video credit Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier courtesy of Waterproof Expeditions

A WILDLIFE PHENOMENON

  • SNORKELING WITH ORCAS
  • PHOTOGRAPHY WHALE WATCHING
  • HUMPBACK WHALES
  • NORTHERN LIGHTS
  • IN SUPPORT OF THE ORCA RESEARCH TRUST

Humpback whales and Orcas have been sighted in large numbers feeding on herring. Scott Portelli and Waterproof Expeditions offers great opportunities for Whale Watching, photography and snorkeling in the crystal clear Arctic waters, which is an experience in itself!

This trip is for anyone interested in Orcas, Humpback whales, white tailed Eagles, Arctic winter, Northern lights, Moose and spectacular landscape. The best time of the year for this phenomena is November through the end of February when the balance between light and access to herring and whales is at its best. The winter days in Norway provide excellent light for photography. We will spend the daylight hours looking for whales and other wildlife and, if the opportunity occurs, snorkel in the crystal clear waters.

With the newly rebuilt live aboard yacht MV ‘Malmö’, we are flexible to follow the herring and the Orcas deep in the fjords and deliver great chances of success.

MV Malmo, expedition vessel to go snorkeling with orcas in Norway on tour with Scott Portelli

During the darker hours you will enjoy the warm and cozy comfort of the expedition yacht while our expert guides entertain you with presentations and educational information on wildlife and cinematography. Excellent food is served with a fine selection of wines and beers.

Itinerary

Day 1

Arrival at Evenes or Tromso airport and transfer to the harbor to board the MV Malmö in the afternoon.

Day 2 – 6

We follow the schools of herring and pods of Orcas in the protected surroundings of the beautiful Norwegian fjords. Prepare for cold but rewarding days out at sea with spectacular sightings of an unique display of nature. Have your cameras charged and whenever possible be ready to slip into the cold water for a Polar Snorkel adventure or enjoy the phenomena from the spacious deck on board the comfortable expedition yacht, MV Malmö.

Day 7

Disembarkation and transfer to the airport.

Vessel

A comfortable expedition vessel, recently refurbished and a piece of maritime history, with large wooden deck space and ‘al fresco’ dining area. With 2 large zodiacs and experienced expedition team, the ship provides the ideal platform for small groups, families, friends and incentives looking for the ultimate Arctic wildlife experience in the utmost  comfort.

The vessel carries a maximum of 15 guests in 7 outside twin cabins.

4x Twin cabins with bunk beds and private shower and toilet in the cabin
2x Twin cabins with bunk beds and shared facilities and washbasin in the cabin
1x Triple cabin with bunk beds and private shower and toilet in the cabin

All cabins are serviced daily  and a laundry service is available.

International cuisine is served in the cozy lounge with bar and direct access to the ‘al- fresco’ dining area outside.
The bar is stocked with alcoholic beverages and sodas and of course we take care of your special wine request.
A separate Saloon with lots of books and tv screen is a great room for relaxing moments after an exciting day full of adventures.

Dates & Rates

Start and finish in Tromso:

14 – 20 November 2017 – limited availability
21 – 27 November 2017 – limited availability
7th – 13th January 2018 – limited availability

Twin Private Cabin      € 3.385 per person
Twin Shared Cabin      € 3.295 per person
Triple Private Cabin     € 3.185 per person

Price include

  • Group transfer from airport to vessel v.v.
  • Comfortable accommodation in your choice of cabin
  • Full board, coffee and tea
  • Snorkel equipment (D9 Waterproof Snorkel Drysuit, fins, mask, snorkel, boots, gloves and hood)
  • All activities and lectures on board
  • Experienced Expedition Leader and Guide
  • All miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program

Price do not include

  • International and domestic flights
  • Excess baggage charges on flight
  • All items of a personal nature such as laundry, meals ashore, bar, beverages and telecommunication charges
  • Gratuities
  • Pre- and post-voyage packages with air and hotel, available upon request

To register your interest to join us in Norway for this once in a life time experience, click here.

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