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A school of orcas in outside the coast of Tysfjord in Northern Norway.
Orcas, Tysfjord.
Photo: Ole Jørgen Liodden / Naturfokus / / Tysfjord

It’s orca season in Northern Norway.

Published: 7 November 2017

In the new BBC series Blue Planet II – which, like like the original series from 2001, is narrated by Sir David Attenborough – a part of the first episode captures unique, non-hostile interaction between humpback whales and orcas.  

The spectacular footage of this never-before documented phenomenon was shot through 82 days on location outside of Vengsøya and in Andfjorden. And it could singlehandedly turn the most dedicated city dweller into a passionate sailor.

The orca is not only the stuff of sea legends – a gigantic, graceful, smart and merciless apex predator. The massive mammal – weighing up to 8 tons – is a permanent and welcome resident in Norwegian waters as well.

But when and where is the ideal setting for orca-spotting?

Follow the herring – the orca does

Knut Hansvold, Project Manager at the Northern Norway Tourist Board, stresses that there’s no guarantee of seeing orcas or other whale species in any season. But throughout several recent years there has been a pattern in the movements of the great animals.

– From 2011 to the 2016-/17-season, the orcas have come to the Northwestern coast of Tromsø in October and November, where they’ve been munching herring in Kaldfjorden. They’ve been easy to spot. In January they’ve relocated further South, to Senja and Vesterålen. By early February, they’re gone. It’s all about where the herring migrates, says Hansvold.

In other words: The cold season is the time and place for experiencing the predator up close. 

– There are large concentrations of orcas in the winter during those periods. In addition, there is a pod of orca along the coast, and if you’re lucky, they could be spotted at any time.

Orcas, Tysfjord
Orcas, Tysfjord.
Photo: Ole Jørgen Liodden / Naturfokus / / Tysfjord

Expecting orcas later this year

So far this autumn, the orca has not been seen regularly by the Norwegian coast. 

Knut Hansvold speculates that it may have changed its route from Tromsø, Vesterålen and Senja to Skjervøy, Hasvik and Øksfjord further up North. 

– It will arrive later this year. The situation was similar last year, says Marten Bril of Sea Safari Andenæs, one of several providers of whale safaris, focusing on orcas between November and February. 

In addition to a spectacular view from a RIB boat, Sea Safari offers snorkeling opportunities with the giant whales as well. Like Hansvold, however, Bril emphasises the importance of herring in the area. It’s therefore recommended that you check the conditions with the safari suppliers in advance.

Orcas, Tysfjord
Orcas, Tysfjord.
Photo: Ole Jørgen Liodden / Naturfokus / / Tysfjord

Beware of seasickness!

Watching a live orca up close is a potentially life-altering experience, and there have been reports of tourists leaving the scene in tears.

Knut Hansvold are among those who have witnessed this miracle of nature first-hand.   

– I was out fishing in 2011, when suddenly our tiny, open boat was surrounded by orcas. We watched them circle their prey, herring, with hordes of seagulls trying to get in on the action. One at a time they went in to feed. Luckily, there were some experts explaining what happened on board. Afterwards, when they were fed, they came over to say hello

Hansvold has a pro tip for those longing to witness orcas in their natural habitat: 

– Remember your seasickness pills! This happens out in the open sea, so the chance of feeding the crabs is always present.


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