Incredible trip swimming with killer whales and humpbacks

Sam Tibbetts

02 Feb 2017

MEeting the orcas of Norway

A rush of shimmering silver blades in the opaque blue green waters was the first indication. Straining to see into the gloom and with heart beating heavily in my chest a large male emerged into focus heading in my direction. Setting a deliberate and unhurried course, he gave the shoal of, justifiably, skittish herring scant attention as he softly glided through the water towards me. We held eye contact as he passed only feet from where I was bobbing in the icy cold water both of us passing curious judgement, albeit he with significantly greater poise, elegance and confidence.

Weather and nature are unreliable unpredictable beasts and patience is critical in wildlife experiences.

Therefore, to be dropped into a pod of orcas feasting on a huge swirling carousel of herring on day one of our trip was stunning good fortune. Having said that, fortune and luck are not always pure chance. Great credit goes to Patrick, our guide, who arranged a last minute relocation from Hamn to Tromvik as the whales and herring had inconsiderately decided to stay further north this year. Having been in Tromvik over the season, Patrick knew where the whales would be and within 40 minutes of setting off from dock we were gently idling in a fjord as Patrick became increasingly excited about the potential development of a feeding situation. Then, with an urgent and croaky charge of "Go, go, go", I nervously plunged / collapsed into the water and one of the most memorable experiences of my life!

It turned out, due to the weather, our first day was the best and we could not even make it out of the harbour on a couple of subsequent days during the trip. However, day one was a remarkable day set to a backdrop of a gorgeously long sunrise and sunset (with no clear break in between) illuminating the snowy mountains with a deep purple glow. That is also not to say that on the other days we had no success. Far from it! Norway hosts the greatest aggregation of orcas and humpbacks in the world and I have no idea how many whales we saw on any given day on the water.

Resembling a drunken chicken-owl cross, I stumbled back and forth across the rocking boat with neck and head swiveling and jerking to catch sight of whales breaching the water all around the boat. It was also remarkable to see orcas and humpbacks living together in, relative, harmony. I say relative, as the humpbacks crashing indiscriminately through herring carousels that have been carefully orchestrated by the orcas, would be tiresome if you were the orca.

                   Norway Killer Whales Safari collage - Sam Tibbetts

With a small group of just three guests, we were able to make the most of the experience, including in-water time. A trip like this also inevitably brings together like minded folk meaning we had an instant bond and days stuck in dock were filled with great humour, conversation and spirit. I would note, however, that Patrick is ruthless board game player, undoubtedly a residual legacy of his days in corporate law. We also saw reindeer which greatly pleased my Frozen obsessed niece!

Many thanks go to Arabella for putting this unique opportunity my way and whose infectious enthusiasm resulted in me booking the trip within a few hours of hearing about it, to only later Google how many daylight hours there are in Norway in January (not many) and whether it was safe to swim with orcas (apparently so). Arabella also dealt with the last minute, nature caused, hiccup with great speed and efficiency resolving the issue by the end of the morning, much to my considerable relief!

All in all an incredible trip putting me in a quandary about “where next?!" 

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