Featured image, a humpback chasing herring. Photo by Tony Wu.
The whale expedition came to an end as planned Friday February 5th, with Barba returning to Tromsø to get some well deserved rest. She had seen 10 days and 1500 km of sailing from Stavanger, followed by 3 intense weeks interacting with the whales in Hamn, Senja. It had been quite the challenge for the crew, but also one of our most spectacular nature interactions to date.
Close up with a humpback. Photo by Marco Schulenburg.
With the exception of two days being held back by weather, we had the same everyday routine, sailing out of port in the morning. Once out of port the only common denominator was that it was cold, and that we would end up seeing whales every single day. Some times we had to go far out at sea, other times close to shore, somewhat sheltered from the wind and waves which were rather strong at times. As the days passed, we got better at finding the right whales to follow, as well as timing when to jump in. Occasionally we only found a handful of whales, but we also had the days with hundreds of orcas and dozens of humpbacks surrounding Barba, causing havoc to the poor herring.
The dorsal fin of an Orca bull with Barba in the background. Photo by Marco Schulenburg.
For Tony this was his first time in the Arctic winter time. Although not a Viking of birth, he would never think twice about jumping into the freezing water in his wetsuit swimming without towards pods of Orcas and breaching Humpbacks the size of school buses, with the largest ones weighing up to 50 tons. Some of the resulting shots are portrayed in this post. He has not had the time to fully process them though as he had work obligations somewhere in central America, involving swimming with gray whales. We do feel for him. He must be feeling for us as well, as he keeps sending those of us left up North photos of sunny beaches with palm trees.
Mr. Tony Wu at work. Photo by Thomas Kleiven.
For the last week, Kari, Tony and I was joined by Simon Siversten from southern Norway. He is a first class aquanaut and entrepreneur. At the age of 18 he invented the Subwing. A brilliant tool for flying under water, and as a world first we did end up using it with Orcas. I myself had the doubtful honor of serving as bate on the first occasion. I was a touch scared, clinging to the Subwing as orcas came swimming up to inspect this odd looking creatures.
Andreas hanging on at 3,5 knots time with a pod of Orcas in the water.
Simon got the chance to swim with orcas the very first day out. Two large males had gathered a school of herring. The seagulls were swarming above. I wished Kari and Simon the best of luck as they swam towards the shallows. At one moment they stopped swimming towards the Orca, and started looking at each other. I guess it´s allowed to be somewhat concerned the first time you have an 8 meter male Orca heading in your direction.
Simon and Kari with an orca close encounter. Photo by Andreas.
During the three weeks we had many unique and mind-blowing moments with the gentle giants of the sea. I guess everyone who was fortunate to be there, all have ended up with a whale addiction. Feeling helpless in the water, making eye contact with an animal that could send you to the other side in the blink of an eye, but still choses not to, is one of the best feelings around.
Not a good day to be a herring. Photo by Tony Wu.
As I kept saying to Tony, and secretly to myself, as we had lost sensation in fingers and toes from the bitter cold. “You will be back next year, you just don´t know it yet”.
I do cross my fingers and toes that January next year Barba will once again sail North in a gale and reunite with the whales and the fabulous Barba whale crew.
Tony getting ready to go in. Photo by Andreas
Mr Wu to the left, orca to the right performing what is known as a “spyhop”. Photo by Kari Schibevaag.
Topside we saw about 6-8 orcas. Under the surface the picture was quite different.
Orca chasing herring, followed by our photographer Mr. Wu. Shot by Kari Schibevaag.
Simon getting ready to put his masterpiece, the Subwing, to action. Andreas at the helm. Photo by Kari Schibevaag.
Tony struggling to keep pace with two humpbacks. Photo by Thomas Kleiven.
Behind the scene, with Tony showing the catch of the day to Kari. Photo by Thomas Kleiven.
Snow art by our tropical beach dweller Tony.
Simon, Kari and Tony all dressed up for action time.
The end for now. Barba currently rests up North. Come March, she will head back out again! Stay tuned.