Whale safari in Norway – success!!

Andenes lies at the most northern point of Andoya island (north east of the Lofoten Islands) and roughly 400km above the arctic circle. The area of islands is called ‘Vesteralen’ and is home to more sheep than people. The scenery is less dramatic than Lofoten, but it’s blessed with being only an hour boat ride to the continental shelf – i.e. whale country!

We’ve seen whales before from a zodiac boat off the shores of Cape Breton Island in Canada. It cost about Β£20. It was only a short trip but we saw two basking sharks and had the joy of watching a humpback whale breach numerous times. I loved it!

Here, it costs Β£100!! There’s two company’s that go out on whale safaris, one has two huge boats, full of tourists crowded around the hull fighting for the best photo op. The other company, ‘sea safari’ has two RIB boats, seating a max of 12 in each – clearly the better option. The weather was expected to be rather crappy, but one day had sun and cloud so we quickly booked in.

We were told that anything was possible as lots of whale breeds come to the area, but we are most likely to see Sperm whales. These beasts grow up to 18m long and are the largest toothed whale. Only the males live up here, as they like a good feed and that’s what they get around the continental shelf where currents converge. The main thing they search for is giant squid – the lady showed us a model of a Sperm whale, and the same of a giant squid, they were the same size in model and real life, I do not want to meet a giant squid! The manager also warned us that if there’s a fire on the board, don’t wait to be barbecued, jump off.

We were fitted with ‘floating suits’; huge red suits which show you what it’s like to be obese. We only had 9 people in our group, plus a skipper and a guide. I managed to get a seat right at the front and Craig to my right, perfect!

We set off and then the boat soon slowed down and people were pointing places and I couldn’t see a damn thing. I’m sure they all just copy one another but no one has actually seen anything, it’s contagious like when someone yawns. The guide said they just spotted what was either an Orca or a Minke whale, so they said we’d wait there a little while and see if they come back up. I sat there scanning the ocean chanting “c’mon Orca, c’mon Orca!!”. I wanted my dream to come true, where a pod of Orcas swim around us and poke their heads out the water, they look me in the eye, wink, flap a fin in a wave like manner and triple backflip…alas, they didn’t and the guide said “OK, let’s go look for Sperm whales”.

We were cruising along, with the wind in my hair, occasionally we stopped for the guide to put the hydro phone in the water and listen for whales, nothing. I was starting to loose hope already – unlike the big boat, the RIB company doesn’t give you a free trip if you don’t see whales. But then I heard some commotion in the back and saw the skippers serious face and his arm quickly stretch out ahead of him and he pointed dead ahead. I followed his line and saw something in the distance, way in the distance. Wroooom! The skipper hit turbo and we hovered over the oceans surface so fast, the wind made all the liquid from my eyes spread across my face. It was all a blur till we slowed down, and the guide squealed with excitement, “two just went down right here, and one over there, this area is teeming with whales!”.

The Sperm whale tends to dive for 20-30mins, then surface to relax for around 7 minutes. So we waited for one to resurface and hooray, one did so we sped off to see it.

It was quite odd how the whale was just below the surface, you could see 1/3 of its body out the water – it was massive! The guide explained that it was fishing, and that these whales generally dive 500-700m deep and that they can even go to 3000m! They eat up to a ton of food a day and if they don’t eat for 24 hours, they lose 500 kilos of weight.

The whale we were watching was seriously big, 16m long, and hadn’t been seen in the area for over a month. His name was Helva or something like that, apparently what we were seeing was quite rare, as Helva is a dominant male, and male sperm whales are territorial, therefore you generally only see one. The skipper informed us that local fisherman had reported there being tons and tons of squid around the area lately, so clearly there was enough food for all of them to share the area.

The whale was a brownish, grey colour. At times you could only see a small fin, but then a huge slab would be out the water like a banquet table with a vase of it. It did lots of blows, spraying water high up, and then it lifted its head for one last breath, then the guide shouted “WATCH OUT, DIVING, DIVING!!”, which was our queue to get our cameras ready as the whale curved it’s back down into the water. Then came the huge black tail, streaming with water droplets as it flipped up and went into the abyss below. From the back the guide and a German lady shouted “wahoooo!” in unison and we were all grinning from ear to ear.

Now we waited for the next one to rise, the guide used his hydrophone to listen to the whale, to guess its size and to try and see how many there were here. He let us all listen to the sound, a ‘click, click’ noise. He said the Sperm whales head is 1/3 the size of its body, it’s an organ in itself and is an echo sounding device. Sperm whales dive so deep that they need this to help them search for food. Below us was 500m to the sea floor – it would be pitch black down there, so by ‘clicking’ the sounds bounce back and create a 3D imagine. It’s ‘clicks’ can reach 230 decibels, which is as loud as a bomb exploding or a plane taking off. He said if you dived near a sperm whale he was sure you would die, the vibrations coming from it would simply kill you.

The guide had amazing eye sight and soon spotted a blow far in the distance, this time we were watching Matz. He was a similar size to the first one, and after he dove down we watched the comical Puffins. Over 80,000 pairs of them live on an island near here so I was very happy to get a glimpse of them. They have to be the biggest joke of a bird I’ve ever seen, I think their nickname is clown-bird, due to their ‘face paint’ style faces. Craig said they look more like drag queens though. They were so funny to watch, they couldn’t seem to take off, and would be flapping away from us frantically while their bellies dragged along the water. A few had mouths full of glistening silver fish.

After Matz came up for a second time the guide said we’ll wait for one more whale and then go back. I was chuffed to bits with what we saw already. Helva reappeared near the huge tourist boat and we were there in seconds.

We followed the other RIB boat back but then the skipper veered off the water track and then I saw a whale blow ahead. Now that, is customer satisfaction! We headed towards the whale who was identified as ‘Shiney’, before we knew it we were super close! The captain said he was turning the engine off and would let us drift as we were already too close to the whale. It was about 15m infront of us, you could really see the phenomenal size of it. A few minutes later we had the standard “WATCH OUT! DIVING!!” and “wahoooo!!!”. Then we were left with just the whales footprint, a glassy mirror section of water created by the force of him diving down. What incredible creatures, we know so little about them as we only see such a small part of their lives.

Craig sat at the front on the way back. It turns out that our Β£100 also got us a free rodeo ride as the seats were ‘straddle’ style. Our legs were wrapped around either side and we held onto a bar infront of us trying to stabilise ourselves and prevent being ‘bucked off’. The skipper was zooming along and we were flying up high and crashing down into the waves. I looked over at Craig and he had a huge grin on his face. What an awesome end to Norway.

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