Here all seasons, 12 month a year in the area of Andenes. Only male Sperm whales come here. They are in average about 15 m long, but can be as tall as 20 m and are the largest toothed whales on Earth. A male sperm whale is as massive as 12 African Elephants. They spend many years in a row feeding in the North-Atlantic. We can usually watch their typical foraging behavior. They spend about 5 to 10 minutes calmly breathing at the surface of the ocean. That gives us usually enough time to carefully watch them well and at close range. Once they have got enough oxygen, they get ready for a hunting-dive: the huge body starts moving the whale arches its body and then you will see in most of the cases a wonderful fluke-up. The whale raises its massive tail-fluke out of the water before it disappears for 20 - 60 minutes under the surface to feed on squid and larger fishes like Halibut, Cod and others. Male Sperm whales eat up to 1000 kg each day. Their behavior is quite reliable and predictable; they are huge and will almost certainly fluke-up. Making them perfect for whale watching. You can also learn more about their great acoustic and social skills and where the females are from our guides.
Seen all year, but mostly seen in winter and often in April. In Andenes you will find the Norwegian Orca Survey which suggests that we see a lot of Orcas. This is certainly true, it is one of our most common species, but not as "reliable" as the Sperm whales. But in the winter, as soon as the Herring moves into the fjord, there are suddenly dozens of Killer whales every day. The arrival of the Herring is usually between November and December. The name Killer whale refers to the fact that some Orcas feed on other whales, like Grey whales, but even huge Sperm whales can be attacked by them. So other whales can actually be quite scared if they are around and which means that Sperm whales are more difficult to watch, when the Orcas are around. Norwegian male Orcas can reach a length of more than 9 m, making them the largest dolphins (which in turn are toothed whales, of which the Sperm whale is the biggest). If we find them, we are very happy of course and will try to head for them. Once we reach them they will make very nice sightings and they tend to spend a lot of time at the surface. They travel in mixed family groups (pods). You want to learn more about their amazing hunting techniques? What are the differences between residents and transients?
Known because they are heavily hunted in the Faroe Islands. It is likely that the Pilots, that visit us mostly in the first half of the year (late winter throughout June, maybe July) belong to the same population. We do spot them more and more every year and our guests are very happy with them. Belonging to the same Dolphin group as Orcas (Blackfish), they are a little smaller; the males reach around 7 m. But they are numerous and very active, which includes a lot of behavior that we know whales can do at the surface. Like spy-hopping, lob-tailing, breaching, tail-slapping and more. They are very often very curious and readily approach the boats with the whole family pod. Spending a long observation time with them is a truly beautiful and breathtaking experience. We do love Pilot whales :)
Almost exclusively here when the Herring spends the winter in the fjord. Outside the Herring season the humpback is a very rare guest. The Humpback whale fascinate many whale watchers - ever heard about singing whales? Mostly we mean Humpback whales when we talk about singing whales. It is a Baleen-whale (the other species where toothed whales). Baleen whales feed on small fishes and Krill. They do not hunt like toothed whales, but filter or skim the water for comparatively small food. But they feed on a low trophic level of a food chain so they have a huge food source. Ask us about it. Filtering and skimming happens often close to the surface, which means they are a lot of the time visible at the surface, but they move fast and unpredictable and in that sense they are somewhat the opposite of Sperm whales and often readily jump (breach) out of the water or rolling upside down. They are known to be a spectacular sighting and have given many whale watchers around the globe amazing experiences.
Is another baleen whale, also almost exclusively here in the wintertime when they can find enough Herring in the fjord. When you see them, you will understand that they need some fish. With up to 27m are they the second largest animal on the planet - only the closely related Blue whale gets bigger (and feeds on even smaller food). What a stunning sighting! Gracefully they slide through the water, very fast and very unpredictable, they may swim more than 1 nautical mile underwater before surfacing again - somewhere.
Other species that can be occasionally seen:
Our smallest whale, very shy and often seen close to shore they live in small groups. Many thousands of them drown each year in fishing nets along the coast.
Both species look somewhat similar but can be distinguished at close distance. They are both high oceanic and therefore very seldom so close to the shore that we can find them. We have just a few sightings a year. Both occur in family groups (pods) like dolphins usually do.
The smallest and probably the most numerous baleen whale seen in the area. Mostly a summer guest, we find them feeding in the Arctic and going to back to warmer waters in the south. Not much known about them, neither their numbers nor their migrations are well studied. He is the only commercially hunted species in the north east Atlantic (Norway and Iceland) and somewhat shy when it comes to approaching boats. Every now and then we do see these elegant whales at close range.
Currently, we are working on guidelines for Northern Norway, until then we use the whale watching guidelines that has been created for Tromsø:
In the current absence of direct government regulations, we encourage both commercial operators and private whale watchers to adhere to the following responsible guidelines that have been developed with the encouragement of local communities, local commercial operators, and the media.
These guidelines are by no means meant to thwart whale-related commercial activities. Rather they are a ìbest practiceî for the long-term sustainability of an industry that is dependent on minimizing anthropic disturbance of a natural system. These can be improved.
*All cetacean species are referred to as ìwhalesî in these guidelines, although some species are called "dolphin" or "porpoise" in English.
- Both commercial and private whale watchers need to have an understanding of the whale behaviors and these guidelines. Understanding whale behavior in the fjords assists operators in adhering to guidelines and in educating passengers.
- Commercial whale watching operators are encouraged to include educational programs in their tours, highlighting the fragility of the marine environment and inspiring respect and environmental friendly attitudes and behaviors.
- Operators are encouraged to use boats to capacity, as well as the larger of their boats when possible to reduce the overall number of boats observing whales.
- We advise a maximum of 3 boats observing simultaneously each situation, for the sake of whales and also to enhance the ìwilderness experienceî.
- Boats are encouraged to cooperate so that if there are more boats than limited situations, maximum boat time per situation is 30 minutes. Boats waiting for their turn should remain more than 500m away from whales where possible, or at an appropriately remote distance from the situation depending on the local topography.
- Successful trips should be capped at 3 hours, given the short winter light, and addressing customers exposure to cold.
- Boats should have a skipper as well as a lookout ñ more eyes at sea for ease of spotting (and keeping a distance from) whales and other small craft, especially in low light.
- Approach whales slowly, at 5 knots or less when within 300m, and at constant speed, from the side and slightly to the rear.
- Move parallel to the direction of moving whales, not directly from behind where whales may feel chased, neither head-on, nor intercepting the path.
- Minimum speed should be kept from 100m and idle speed from 50m from a situation.
- Keep quiet. Whales may approach the boat, which is fine, but go to engine neutral and only re-engage if the whale has clearly passed. Turn engine off if appropriate.
- Avoid sudden acceleration/change in boat direction. Whales will not always react fast enough if surprised. Sudden gear changes and reversing cause disturbing underwater engine noise.
- Identify resting whales, characterized by regular patterns of surfacing in groups, remaining motionless or moving slowly on the surface, and then diving. Stay well away of resting whales.
- It is easy to disturb feeding whales and chase them away. Avoid getting too close. Turn off sonar/echo-sounder when close to a feeding situation.
- Boats should not encircle whales or block their freedom of movement.
- If whales show signs of stress or show avoidance behavior despite following these guidelines, move on. Signs may include whales constantly changing direction or speed or making long dives to avoid a boat.
- Give research activities space to work. Operators should also encourage customers to share photographs and observations with researchers.
- Fishermen share these fjords and should be respected by the increased boat traffic.
Chair of Council of the European Cetacean Society (www.europeancetaceansociety.eu†) and Researcher, Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway
Behavioural consultancy, FB: Russell Baker - Learning from Whales
Associate Professor, School of Business and Economics, UiT The Arctic University of Norway
Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Tethys Research Institute
WDC - Whale and Dolphin Conservation