We are currently in Norway working on our orca research and studying this beautiful environment. Our first day on the water was flat calm, with beautiful pink skies and hundreds of orcas. While the crew prepared our zodiacs, we watched from the deck of the Malmö as the orcas darted in and amongst the fishing boats to capture their share of the herring. Here in Norway, the fisheries industry is highly sustainable, after crashing almost 40 years ago, and it seems to allow for an abundance of these apex predators. It’s refreshing to see a successful fishing industry where fisherman and whale watchers/biologists alike can share the waters with little disagreement. I hope to see this practice shared on a worldwide scale in areas where fisheries are plunging and causing the collapse of many marine ecosystems.
In the arctic in winter, sunlight is dim and short-lived, but if you’re lucky enough to have clear skies, you have a few hours of “sunset”. As soon as the zodiacs were ready, we left our “home” ship and headed out into the fjord. Our first drop in the water, we had 2 female orcas swim beneath us, seemingly shy of us at first but definitely curious. They stayed right out of camera view, just far enough into the dark abyss that I couldn’t get a focus on them, so instead I got to enjoy watching them gently glide beneath me. Sometimes in these moments, I find it’s best to truly take it all in and watch with my own eyes then to stress about taking the perfect photo. I was also trying out a few new settings to improve my underwater photography, but this change proved to make focusing quite difficult.
On our second drop, I again had two orcas peacefully swimming by me, this time quite close. As soon as they were passed me, I turned and saw a large pod of 18+ orcas turning towards me. My heart was pounding and I just tried to focus on adjusting my camera to be in the right place at the right time. This is the moment I’ve waited 2 years to capture. Even though I’ve seen orcas underwater multiple times now, nothing prepares you for the heart-rush. It’s an indescribable feeling when they are slowly moving passed you, in pod formation, turning their heads and bellies towards you, all the while echolocating and blowing bubbles. It is truly a gift to be in their presence, and they seemingly have a mutual curiosity about us.
As the fishing boats wrapped up their day, our 2 zodiacs were the only boats left in the fjord, a rare, special moment that we tried to take in for as long as possible. We were treated to a beautiful sunset (something again that has proved to be quite rare in the arctic), and the behavior of the orcas shifted from feeding to play. Three orcas started to follow our zodiac. They seemed to love the sound of our motor, and a few camera drops in the water showed they were playing with the boat bubbles. Orcas are highly intelligent cetaceans, so they exhibit many playful behaviors. Our last drops of the day proved this. On two occasions, we had two orcas offer us pieces of their jellyfish. Tom & Zack had an orca just below them blow the jellyfish towards them, collect it again, and then repeat this behavior. I had heard about this from Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier but never thought we’d be fortunate enough to experience it. Our time in Norway has already been incredible, and we’ve just scratched the surface. We are learning so much, and cannot wait to get back in the water! Thanks to everyone who has supported our research, our organization, and our photography to help us study these amazing predators and help protect and preserve this beautiful arctic ecosystem. More photos & videos coming soon.