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Orcas, humpbacks and herrings

Tony steaming towards a diving humpback. 

Barba has relentlessly been patrolling the waters of the island Senja for the last couple of weeks. We look for our chubby friends close to land and underwater reefs where we think it´s likely that they will start eating herring.

Video of whales, and Tony seeing the sun for the first time in two weeks. 

The herring is a pelagic fish that can reach 40 cm in length and weigh up to 500 grams. The whales try to round-up the herring so that they can either slap them with their tails (the orca strategy) or swallow a whole bunch at the time (the humpback strategy). The orcas and humpbacks are often seen together as they have a go at the the poor fellas. It is not known if they cooperate in the process. Personally I like to think that they do, as they most certainly seem to enjoy each others’ company.

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Andreas scouting for whales. Photo by Tony Wu. 

The second we are out of port in the morning, we start looking for whales. Usually it does not take long before we spot either the dorsal fins of the orcas or the blows from the humpbacks. Once we have them in sight, we try to follow at a distance to see what they are up to. In seconds they can start feeding. The water will start boiling with humpbacks and orcas, and the sky will be filled with seagulls picking up dead herring floating at the surface. Spotting seagull with our binoculars often reveals feeding frenzies at great distance. When this happens, it´s full speed ahead to try to get there in time.

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Thomas and Tony about to go in. 

As we are on location, we jump in and try to get up close to the whales, both to experience them up close, and to get a photo of the magnificent animals in action. Often we can smell the distinctive odor of whale breath in the breeze. Underwater we sometimes hear the sounds of orcas and humpback whales calling out. The sounds are used to navigate, coordinate attacks, and most likely also for frightening herring to make them stick together, facilitating the onslaught.

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Two orcas, a humpback and a frightened herring (next to the humpback). 

Since the last blog post, Thomas Grindevoll has been replace by Kari Schibevaag. Kari is an energetic girl who is accustomed to the marine environment. She is 19 times world champion in kiting on snow and water and has dominated the sport for a decade.

Kari, rather enthusiastic to have survived her first whale swimming. 

Her first meeting with the whales was to be an exciting one. Barba was surrounded by whales, and we could see dense schools of herrings on the echo sounder. Kari and Tony jumped in. Tony went straight to the whales, with Kari struggling to keep the pace. After about a minute or so, she swam as fast as humanly possible waving her arms. My immediate thought was that she had been slapped on the head by an orca. As it turned out, the water had been so full of herring and whales that Kari was worried about being swallowed by a whale!

We continue our whale interactions with undiminished force and increased level of experience.

Andreas

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The footprint of a herring eater that has just dived down for it´s next meal. 

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Tony and Kari waiting for the opportunity to jump in. 

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The onboard chart plotter. The herring seen as a red cloud on the echo sounder. 

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A humpback fluke and Barba. By Tore Emil Lien.

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The result of an evening dive. 

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Ola and Thomas from one of the top Norwegian newspapers enjoying scallops with Kari and Tony. 

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Tony posing for the press.

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Thomas, the aqua man. 

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Thomas fetching dinner, whale killed herring. 

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Thomas in the galley. 

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The herring. Our new favorite fish! 

4 Responses

  1. Pickled herring is the best. My dad was Norwegian, and also worked on a fish boat, we ate a lot of fish. Maybe one day I will come to Norway. I live in Chilliwack BC a little town just out side of Vancouver BC.

    • You should also try fresh whale killed fish one day! Maybe you find some whales outside Vancouver to help you out 😉

      A.

    • In short she is saying that she thought she was going to get eaten by a whale, hence the excitement 🙂

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