Tysfjord is one of a handful of locations around the world where hundreds of killer whales return every year, and one of even fewer places where you can experience coming face-to-face withthem (diving with orcas).
Just inside the Arctic Circle lies the Lofoten Islands on the northwest coast of Norway. Every year, from October and January, between 500 and 700 orca gather in the narrow fjords of northern Norway to hunt the enormous shoals of herring that congregate in the area each winter. The oscines orca is the largest member of the dolphin family and easily recognizable with their black-and-white underside with grey saddle markings. They are between five and eight meters in length and an adult male can weigh up to ten tones. Just imagine – how is it to make diving with whales !!!
In days of old, Portuguese sailors witnessed orca feeding on other whales, calling them 'whale killers' (remark: it is no dangerous to have diving with orcas. Translated into English, this was incorrectly transposed to 'killer whales' and thisfearsome name has stuck to this day. Despite their foreboding title, there is to date no record of a wild orca ever attacking a human being. The orca is the supreme marine apex predator. It is armed with formidable teeth and powerful jaws which provide the ability to kill almost any prey it chooses, up to the size of a blue whale, the largest mammal in the world. Such an awesome hunter might be expected to inspire terror, but this is a creature that relishes contact with man.
Anyone who has enjoyed close encounters with an orca will testify to their friendly and gentle behavior, which contrasts with their predatory style of life. An intensely social creature, the killer whale travels in family 'pods' of up to 50 individuals. Within these groups there can be a lifetime bond between a mother and her calf, another of their endearing characteristics. The males are easily recognizable by their straight dorsal fin, while the female's fin is curved.
Our journey was rewarded with an hour-long in-water experience of diving with whales. We saw the lot - tail lobbing, spy hopping, and one orca breached right beside us! The orcas' hunting technique is called 'bubble netting'. Working as a team and circling the herring, they corral a shoal of herring by blowing bubbles to force a group to the surface from below. As the fish become trapped near the surface, the orca keep the herring in a ball by continually circling and blowing bubbles frombelow. Then one orca will swim in and tail whack the fish ball while another will come and eat the stunned fish.
We came face- to-face with one and was awestruck. With inch-precision movement in the water, the big male eyeballed me and stopped right in front of my face. Then it turned and with a swish of its tail left me spinning in the swirling water. We stayed in a renovated barn 50 meters from the sea in Skrovkjosen, with daily trips on a RIB,which are limited to daylight hours. Our dive guide Hugh - a Norwegian Scouser whose family have lived in Tysfjord since before World War Two - had immense personal knowledge and a lifetime of experience in diving with orcas, and this gave us the best chance to observe them in their natural habitat.
This trip is not for the faint-hearted. It is off the beaten track; however the journey will be rewarded with the experience of a lifetime.
This magical location is swept by the Gulf Stream and is not as cold as you may think. Sea temperatures vary from 4-8 degrees C. Hugh planned, organized and introduced us to killer whales, their biology and behavior for us to safely interact with them while causing minimum impact on their habitat and daily routine. The dates to go are very important (marine mammals). Get there too soon and there will be plenty of daylight but no orca. Too late in November and there will be orca right up to Skrovkjosen, but not enough daylight for photography. Then as November turns to December it will be very cold above water. When we were there in early November, the air temperature varied from +2 degrees C to -15 degrees C. Hugh has survival suits for anyone that wants them on the boat. We recommend dry suits with dry gloves to get into the water and snorkel to enjoy the experience to the full.