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Killer whales (Orcas) at the surface - courtesy of Rik Vercoe
Killer whales (orcas) at the surface - courtesy of Rik Vercoe
Diving with killer whales (orcas) - courtesy of Jenny Pickles
Diving with killer whales (orcas) - courtesy of Jenny Pickles
Diving with killer whales (orcas) - courtesy of Jenny Pickles

Scuba Diving Norway, Europe

Reader Reviews:

Dive Site: Killer Whale Diving

Location: Lofoten, Norway, Europe

Description: Snorkelling / free diving with killer whales

Visibility: 15 metres (50 feet)

Rating: *****

We set off for our three day adventure on the Anne Bore, a 1911 wooden-hulled Norwegian transport vessel. This has been refurbished to fully cater for 15 divers, with a well-equipped galley, drying room, compressor room and main dining and sleeping bunk room.

We set off from the centre at 9am, loading on our diving kit and tanks. It was still pitch black outside, adding to the feeling of adventure and excitement. We piled into the boat and set off South and East from Kabelvag, heading deep into the Vestfjorden. There was a fantastic buzz onboard; everyone was hyped up with anticipation after 12 hours of travelling, 3 planes and 2 days of waiting for the weather to settle we were off! Although Magne had promised we would find the whales, I was still nervous: would they be there and would they let us swim with them? After 5 hours of motoring this feeling had still not subsided and I was beginning to worry that we wouldn't find any, when suddenly one of our French companions came shouting down 'Whales, there are whales!'. The skies were already beginning to darken again and Magne said we must be quick as we wouldn't have long with them. Within seconds, we were all ready and climbing aboard the rib. As we sped across the choppy seas I spotted them for the first time, it was a pod of about 10 whales circling and tail slapping in the distance. As we neared it was clear that they were hunting, rounding up shoals of herring for maybe their last feed of the day.

As we put on our fins and masks, Magne steered the rib into their path 'Get ready!' and before I knew it I was in the icy Arctic waters 'Look down!' But there was nothing, just thousands of herring scales, suspended in the depths below, glistening in the remnants of daylight. There were no whales, and I immediately thought, 'What on earth am I doing here!? I'm in the freezing Arctic water, this is utter madness!!'

Back on the rib, there were various expressions on my companions' faces: one of the French girls was grinning from ear to ear. She could barely speak she was so excited. She had seen two whales, but the rest of us had missed them, how I'm not sure as they were still hunting very close to the rib. Around we went, positioning ourselves in their path, again 'Get ready!' This time as I entered the water I was engulfed by herring, in their hundreds, nervously grouping tightly into the bait ball. At this point it dawned on me, that maybe I didn't want to be here at all, they aren't called killer whales for nothing! Then, suddenly I saw them. The feeling is completely indescribable as five giant whales shot below me in the depths, squeaking and clicking, fully intent that my presence was not going to interfere with their hunting. They are majestically beautiful, all feelings of concern immediately vanished: of course I wasn't going to be mistaken for a seal - there were far tastier meals to be had. I followed them for a few minutes until they again vanished into the depths. The only reminder of their presence, were several dazed looking herring desperately seeking shelter underneath me.

We had several more trips into the water with them, returning to the rib each time to make sure we were right in the thick of the hunting pod. I soon got the hang of looking out for the flashes of white below me, and where they might be, in order to follow them for as long as possible. However, we soon had to return back to the Anne Bore as the light was fading fast. As we circled round them for the last time, I took the opportunity to observe the family unit: there were about 3 adult females, with 2 very young calves, some younger females and 2 young males. As we turned to head back to boat one of the young calves sat spy hopping (head out of the water), whilst another happily tail slapped. It was as if we had briefly been accepted as members of their family and they were saying goodbye and it was a terrible wrench to leave them.

After our first night moored up and raucous evening in a light house pub, we headed off directly in the rib to look for them again. This time, however, we were not so lucky: after asking several fishing vessels if they'd seen any whales, it seemed as though they had moved on, following the herring deeper into the fjord. This day we only saw two male whales as they came along side the Anne Bore, following the boat for an hour or so. The second evening, after a traditional Norwegian dish of fish, potatoes and onions we were treated to a beautiful display by the Aurora Borealis.

On our third day we headed directly east deep into the fjord. This is a popular tourist spot and so we were confident of seeing more whales. Again heading off in the rib, we soon saw several pods of whales, this time travelling fast and intent on finding herring. They were moving too quickly for us to swim with them and so we spent several hours driving around and losing count of how many we saw. As the day drew on, the whales were becoming more interested in us: they had obviously eaten for the day and so we dropped into the water. This was a totally different experience from before: no longer focused on hunting, these whales were merely with us out of curiosity. It was if they were just as intrigued by us as we were by them. Two large males spent the best part of an hour swimming below us inverted in order to get the best view of us above. For what seemed like an eternity, I swam face to face with giant male as he floated suspended vertically below me, almost smiling up with a bewildered look on his face, before turning and swimming off with his companion. As ridiculous as it sounds, I waved goodbye, contentedly knowing that this was the amazing experience I had travelled so far for.

Killer Whale Facts:

  • The whales are there because of the herring, and so for this reason, they will only be in Vestfjorden for as long as the herring are there. They are in the Fjord from October to January.
  • There are approximately 600 whales in this area of Norway.
  • Females reach up to 7m long, with a 0.8m dorsal fin. They stop having calves at 45 and can live for another 30-40 years. The males reach up to 9m, with a 1.8m dorsal fin. They are fully grown at 20.
  • Killer whales remain in close-knit family pods. The alpha female will lead her family, consisting of her fully grown daughters and their offspring and any adolescent males. Adult males will leave the pod to breed. If the pod becomes too large (about 12) or if the alpha female dies, the other adult females will disband to lead their own pod.
  • Killer whales have four main activities: feeding, travelling (up to 60kn/h), resting and socialising.
  • Killer whales are not strictly true whales. The killer whale (Orcinus orca) is the largest member of the dolphin family.
  • Killer whales are often known as the devil dolphin: Delphinus Orca. They are the black sheep of the family as they are often whale killers, feeding on other whales, hunting and drowning young or weaker whales. They also feed on seals and shoals of fish. They will circle around bait balls of herring, blowing bubbles to force hundred of fish to the surface to concentrate the numbers.
  • Killer whales communicate using sound; every whale will learn the different sounds within the pod, from a series of clicks to high pitched squeaks. They can stay in touch with each other up to 24km apart.

Jenny Pickles, BSAC Dive Leader

That experience is something that I would dream or doing! Knowing that it is possible to be able to do something so wonderful makes my dreams and ambitions even higher in life! Hope I get the chance to go whale spotting in the future. Would you live the experience again?

Robert James Smith

Great piece by Jenny Pickles, I wish they would change laws so we could dive with orcas in the U.S. off of Washington and other places. I would definitely get in the water with the great killer whale.

Mike Petkosh | 2/3/2010

I have kayaked several times with these amazing animals off the San Juans. I would love to dive with them.

Cord Ivanyi | 2/3/2010

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