Wake up to whales in Norway

Orca (Killer whale) watching

The Norwegian fjords just north of Tromsø are, according to ‘Skipper Extraordinaire’, Charles Wara, probably the best place on the planet to watch killer whales in the wild. Captain Wara should certainly know as he grew up in the north of Norway and has been running Aurora Borealis and whale watching tours in the Kvaløya area for over a decade.
But what makes this dramatic fjord region, a couple of hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, such an irrepressible place for orcas? How does an area of Norway that still hunts, kills and eats whales relate to responsible tourism and what measures are in place to protect whales in their natural habitat?

Responsible Travel has explored Norway’s relationship with whales and discusses how we, as responsible travellers, are integral to changing attitudes in order to help protect these intelligent and inquisitive creatures for future generations.

What attracts killer whales to Norway?

In a mermaid’s purse: herring.
Scientists divide the behaviour of killer whales into four activities: hunting, socialising, resting and travelling. Norwegian killer whales are resident whales but move a lot within the fjord system searching for herring; in all they spend approximately 40 percent of their time travelling. Some orcas in Norway use a technique called "carousel feeding", in which the whales work together to bring a school of herring close to the surface and then circle around the herring to panic them into a tighter and tighter ball. The whales then slap their massive tail flukes through the school so that the herring are stunned or killed and picked off at leisure.

What’s the best time of year to watch whales in Norway?

Captain Wara told us: “Late October to the middle of January is the best time to watch humpback and killer whales between Kvaløya and Andøya, although it is also possible to see sperm whales from Andøya during the summer.”

Do whale watching tours affect whales' behaviour?

According to Captain Wara: “I do not think the boats distress them as long as the boats are moving slowly and gentle and do not try to chase the whales (with speed boats etc). When we have been drifting we have had whales more or less everywhere but over us! I also doubt swimming with the whales changes anything - as long as the boats that carry the swimmers behave gently.”

Can you see the Northern Lights at the same time?

Captain Charles Wara: “Since humpbacks and killer whales are in the area from October to January, you cannot miss the Aurora Borealis; unless you are in your room after 8 pm, of course.”
Julie Boissonade, in her review of her Northern Lights and whale watching holiday in Norway: “We were sitting on a remote anchorage at night as the Aurora Borealis illuminated the sky with a bright green glow constantly changing, twisting, turning, folding and falling. At the same time as this eerie display we could hear herring flapping on the surface of the water and the noise of humpback whales blowing just metres from the boat.”

Our view on whale watching in Norway

Norway’s relationship with whales has long seemed tinged with hypocrisy in as much as whales are considered part of the country’s ‘cultural heritage’ but still killed for meat and blubber. Whale hunters are currently allowed to kill just over 1,200 minke whales each year; however, this quota is rarely met and many activists agree that Norway’s whaling industry, like Iceland's, is facing its final death knells.

At Responsible Travel we believe that whales are meant to be in the wild and not to be hunted for food or for any other traditional ‘cultural’ activity. Although Norwegians are only allowed to hunt minke whales, which are plentiful and not threatened with extinction, this is still a barbaric practice that we feel has no place in the modern world.

We campaigned long and hard to Say No to Orca Circuses and we feel the more Norway understands the value of whales, including minke whales, as a vital part of a sustainable and profitable tourism industry, the better.

What can you do to help?

Travelling with serious and registered small tour companies that understand how and why whales interact with humans and the natural environment is one way that you can help convince Norway that watching whales is better than killing them. All the holiday companies on our site have been screened to ensure they conduct tours in a responsible way.

Not eating whale meat and not buying whale products also offers a chance to further harm the whaling industry and we hope it won’t be too long before we’re able to announce that whaling in Norway has finally hurled its last harpoon.
If you'd like to chat about Norway or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Rosy & team.
01273 823 700
Photo credits: [Top box: Mike Charest] [Tail slapping: Yathin S Krishnappa ] [Northern lights: Carsten Frenzl] [Helpdesk: Galyna Andrushko]
Written by Chris Owen
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