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Orcas at Tysfjord

Listed under Whale Watching in Vestlandet, Norway.

  • Photo of Orcas at Tysfjord
  • Photo of Orcas at Tysfjord
Photo of Orcas at Tysfjord
Photo by flickr user Pink Rocker
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On a clear, subzero day, I scrambled with childish glee for the front seat of the Zodiac inflatable power boat. Together with 20 other passengers bundled up in layers and windproof suits, I straddled the saddle-like cushioned bench with all the grace of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.

Miles of dark soupy water quickly disappeared beneath us as the boat went into full throttle over Tysfjord and into Vestfjord in search of Killer Whales.

We were carried high by the waves and dropped back into water that might as well have been concrete; that might not sound like fun, but my teeth started hurting from the cold because I could not stop grinning. Kitted out in full diving gear, our guide Anthony Mayer recorded our reactions, complete with expletives, for posterity. Unconcerned about our breakneck speed, he perched on the edge of the boat making jokes about being shaken but not stirred.

I soon lost feeling in my fingers and toes, and the sea spray numbed what little of my face was exposed. It suddenly occurred to me just how potentially stupid it might seem to be in arctic waters in little more than a dinghy, but it truly is the best way to appreciate the wild side of Norway. How else are you going to get this close to the sheer rock wall of Eagle Mountain?

In spite of its inhospitable appearance, the cliff is where 250 pairs of Sea Eagles come to nest every spring. In winter they feed on the abundant herring, made even more so by the tour boats.

Anthony throws some frozen herring on the water near the boat and two eagles immediately start circling overhead, with the larger of the two swooping down to take the fish into its impressive claws. Only up-close does their size, with a 7-foot wingspan, actually register. The 16-inch herring looks like a sprat in the eagle’s grip.

No orcas showed themselves until the third day, when I was in an altogether less pleasant vessel. Not only was the Leonora an ex-whaling ship - its harpoon a stark reminder of the past - but it was also a larger lumbering boat which made me violently seasick.

For a while I clutched a plastic bag at the ready and couldn’t care less whether I ever saw an orca in my life, cursing the foul beasts for luring me into this situation. Two sickness tablets and some lying down improved matters, however, and soon the skipper informed us that they were closing in on a small group of orcas far out in the Fjord, near Skrova. Hurrying back to the upper deck I discovered the unmistakeable shape of a large black dorsal fin breaching the water.

Seeing these animals in captivity is awe-inspiring, but it can in no way prepare you for encountering them in the wild. “This is definitely not Sea World” is a phrase you hear often from the staff, and that applies both for the fact that you don’t always find orcas when you look for them and to the experience of being with them. We were held spellbound as these giant 5-ton dolphins came almost close enough to touch and took it in turns to surf the waves created by the Leonora.

They seemed to have as much fun being swept along by each swell as we were having watching them, and only the premature sunset dictated an end to the party.

Back at the hotel I spotted our guide, Lynne Decoster, presiding over a ceremony to mark the day’s sighting. Suffice to say it involved off-key singing and the wearing of a helmet to which a plush orca was ducktaped. Looking at the maps with all the sighting stickers it was painfully clear that the orca numbers inside the Fjord had declined sharply over the past couple of years. Lynne, who spends winters in Tysjford and the summer months in Versteraalen observing Sperm Whales, thinks that this change is due to a natural shift in herring migration patterns. Millions of tonnes of fish used to shelter in the fjords every winter, attracting hundreds of orcas between October and January, but now the herring shoal increasingly stay out at sea, along with their predators.

Written by  Alice Bonasio.

Other expert and press reviews

“Orcas at Tysfjord”

For killer whale (orca) sightings there is no where better than Tysfjord in Norway. Many researchers come here to study the orcas so there is an opportunity to join a scientific party and help with tagging etc. which can be an entirely wonderful experi… Read more...

Written by  Frida Elba.

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