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Killer Whale Safari at the Lofoten, Norway
Text and photos by Jerome Konen
(Trip from 27 October - 8 November 1999)


Lofoten

It's eight o'clock in the morning, the fishing boat which should bring us to the Orcas has just arrived. Outside it's still dark and cold. We are 250km above the polar circle in Kabelvåg a small and quiet village on the Lofoten Islands in Norway, and it's already end of October.

A few months ago we have started preparing and training ourselves for this expedition, diving in extreme weather and sea conditions combined with an Orca safari. We, that's Marc, Alex and myself Jerome. Together with a german group of 6 divers we share a nice hostel in the harbour owned by Magne Goffeng, the diving base leader.

The Search

Now as the hired fishing boat has arrived, we pack all the necessary stuff for a planned 2 days trip to the Tysfjord, the area where the Orcas migrate every year beginning of November for hunting the herrings. Magne told us, he just saw a small group of Orcas out in the fjord from his rubber boat last day. So they are already here, but how many, will we get the chance to find them?

Slowly and with wavy movements we leave Kabelvåg behind us. We could do much faster with the rubber boat, but here from the deck of the fishing boat we have perfect view over the quite sea.

Anelie's Boat

After a few hours we arrive in the Tysfjord and desperately looking and searching the Orcas and finally, late in the afternoon, we see black fins appearing on the sea surface ahead. As the Tysfjord is famous and well known for the Killerwhales, there are already two other boats cruising around. The Orcas seam not to be interested in us or more likely they are looking for feeding and they just disappear before we approach them and reappearing in a different location after a few minutes of diving. It's getting dark very fast up here and shooting pictures becomes extremely difficult especially with long focal lenses. This will definitely be getting a challenge for a photographer.

So we decide to stay overnight in the harbour of Lødingen. We have an unexpected visit of Annelie Utter, whale researcher by passion. She was in the same area that afternoon on board of her marvellous whale research sailing boat.

The Storm

Searching the Orcas

The next morning reveals the moody weather of Norway, grey and stormy. Not very promising for Orca encounters.

The whole day long the weather gets worse and worse, so we do some fishing, very easy indeed even for beginners. The way back home ends up in a real storm and being on a fishing boat is quite a dramatic experience.

Orcas Ahead

But after a few days, more and more Orca families were entering the fjord just near our diving base, so that we could reach them easily only with our rubber boat, as this boat was also much faster. They count each year up to 40 pods, each 12-15 animals in the fjord.Orcas ahead

We had to be very patient to approach the whales, they have to accept you, once this is done slightly slip into the water without making to much noise and they will come by their own, because they are very curious. The encounters were amazing, look at what I have experienced during the first encounter.

First Encounter

After I've let myself gliding into the cold water from the rubber boat, I was drifting alone on the surface. Suddenly no more killer whales around, they seemed to have disappeared again, as we had not yet the experience when to go exactly into the water. Our rubber boat was quite far away already and I had my uw-camera in the hand. I was looking in the endless deep, dark and blurry water. Then I suddenly heard the sound of the Orca's voice, squeaking and clicking noises. My heart began to speed up and then I saw him coming from the depth just full speed towards me, a huge male Orca, at least 6m. I couldn't take any picture, I was like transfixed by this encounter. What would happen now? The Orca was approaching very fast, then stopped at a few meters only from me, turned slightly his head and looked me eye in eye. This moment was endless. I was scared but high on emotion as well, then he turned back away and disappeared in the dark depth of the sea. I was trembling when I finally reached the boat, but I was happy. How happy I was!

The Hunt

Another day out with the Orcas, we had the opportunity to observe their amazing and known as one of the most sophisticated hunting techniques in nature. They enter in this area because of the large schools of herrings in the fjord.

Orca

The hunt is based on the co-operation of the several animals the same time. You can hear them communicating intensely during the hunt. Some whales are circulating the herring school to bring it closer together and up to the surface as another one moves in from below with a strong and powerful swing with its back tail. This shock blow makes some of the herrings die immediately, others unconscious. Sometimes you can see herrings trying to escape by the surface, we call them the "flying herrings". Then the Orcas are catching them one by one, biting the heads off to enjoy just the rest. It's a real feast.

Being in the middle of this dramatic scenery and being left untouched is unbelievable. We saw some frightened herrings searching protection under our bodies after escaping from this act.

Who wants to play

The daylight has got slightly lost behind the horizon of the fjord when suddenly a baby Orca has come out of the water near our boat looking straight to us for a while. Researchers call this over water observation technique "spy hopping". As his head was out of the water and was turning himself to his right side to gave us some winks with his side fin like inviting us into the water made us very curious. I never saw such behaviour from a wild living animal. We were all very chilled out already from the whole day, but I couldn't resist, so two of us slipped into the water and we were welcome by 4 baby Orcas (not so small at all). They started to play with us swimming around, turning their white bellies towards us. It's their must vulnerable point of their body, so must be some kind of showing trust. Their movements seamed so aesthetic and beautiful. After a while they realised we were just observers, couldn't really play their game and they disappeared in a formation of 2 groups of 2 in the groundless depths of the fjord. What a day out!

Summary

Warming up between the dives

Now I know this trip has changed in some way my life. I will never forget the close encounters with these whales, frightening but beautiful which is the Orca - we don't call them Killer Whales anymore.

They gave us a new meaning of intelligent life on earth. We developed a strong respect to this smart, aestetic and beautiful animal. We were impressed by their social life, their way of showing trust to us while hunting as a predator in the sea.


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