It was the second day of the Barba whale expedition in Hamn, Senja. The birds were flying next to a small cove in large numbers, and we could see the distinct orca dorsal fins slicing through the water. Tony and myself were approaching in the dinghy, wearing our wetsuits. Action time.
The dinghy, used for quick and easy access as well as to venture into shallow waters.
Although we had seen numerous humpbacks and orcas the previous day, we had not been able to get into the water with them. They are much faster then our boat, and will simply swim away should they not appreciate our presence. For an interaction you have to get to them when they are in the appropriate mood.
A breaching humpaback. This one was out of reach.
Our main concern up here is not what most people would think. The whales themselves are not known to attack, and with Tony onboard and excellent local advice we are fairly confident not to suffer the same faith as the poor herrings which they feed on. We are mostly worried about things like losing sight of people in the cold water; running Barba aground in the minefield of rocky underwater obstructions; or having technical issues such as engine failure (knock on wood). We have a wide array of safety equipment, including means for communication, satellite trackers and a long experience with operating in the prevailing conditions. Nevertheless, we can only reduce risk, not eliminate it altogether.
The unmistakable large dorsal fin of an orca male.
With Barba waiting outside in deeper water, Tony and I jumped in at the center of the action. There were dozens of orcas and the visibility was limited to a couple of meters due to the dense school of herring that had been herded in to shallow waters by the whales where no escape was possible.
Tony in the water with orcas for the first time.
I saw Tony head straight for the orcas. My honorable task is to get Tony to the best location possible to allow him to do what he does best—underwater whale photography. I held the dinghy rope in my hand, so it would not drift out to sea. Not that I missed out on the action. Suddenly the dense school of herring would explode, and a 5- to 6-ton orca would come darting through. They stun the herring by slamming their tail into the herring school, subsequently eating the poor fellows one at the time.
Orca encounter at close range, as seen from the dinghy.
After some time in the water, I took Terry and Rasmus out in the dinghy one at the time, so that they could enjoy the show up close. For us this was experiencing nature at its very best. After 1,5 hours I picked up a smiling Tony from the water.
Tony and Andreas following a whale encounter. It´s not warm, but who cares as long as whales are on the agenda.
We have now spent 7 days in Hamn, encountering whales everyday. Terry left Hamn on Saturday, and was replaced by Malin who crewed for the Stavanger-Tromsø leg. Thomas Grindevoll, Norwegian record holder in free-diving with 84 meters in constant weight 105 meters with variable weight has been with us since Friday. In addition to his usual good spirit, he is helping Tony and myself to make the most of our new wetsuits and contributing as crew and whale enthusiast.
This adventure is not over by far. More to come,
Tony and Rasmus scouting for whales.
Thomas collecting dinner. Whale-killed herrings.
Tony, Terry and one of the local whale experts, the legendary Marco Schulenburg.
Bandaris, the boat of our dear friend Antti from Finland who we first meet in Ny-Ålseund, Svalbard this summer.
Honoring the Russian ice bathing tradition on the Epiphany (January 19).
Still no direct sunlight, but hopefully it will return within the next couple of days.