Part 1 of Maaike’s Orca Snorkeling Experience
Is swimming with wild orcas your number 1 bucket list item? Our guest Maaike van der Knaap made her dream come true during our Winter Whales of Norway expedition cruise and is eager to share her experience.
Maaike: “After covid cancelled our attempts to go see orcas in Vancouver Island, we decided to make our orca dream come true in Norway. Together with my wife Daniëlla I planned a 2-week winter adventure, seeking the cold in the far north for the first time after several other ‘whale holidays’. I have been crazy about orcas since I was 8 years old. I got to see them several times in real life in Tarifa, Spain. An incredbile experience! But this voyage in Northern Norway was of a whole other level. Until recently, I never thought my dream of swimming with orcas would ever come true. Sometimes you have to strike the iron while it’s hot and so we did when we very suddenly decided to book this trip. We couldn’t be more excited!”
Day 1 – The start of our dream trip
After enjoying Tromsø for two full days, it was finally time to board the MS Polarfront around 16.30 in the afternoon. A few months of preparation and anticipation really made us look forward to this moment. Our guides Rinie and Szymon picked up our group from the lobby of our hotel. As they introduced themselves, we immediately felt everyone was in good spirits. The group of guests was very diverse and the atmosphere relaxed. These were the people we were going to share this spectacular experience with.
Once on the ship, we were assigned our cabin after which we got to try on the drysuits and were treated to a delicious meal and welcome cocktail. The ship and our cabin were simply beautiful. As the daughter of a fisherman, I love being on a ship. I felt right at home on Polarfont and extremely curious about what would await us.
Day 2 – Our first orca encounter
While we were sleeping, the ship had already sailed quite a distance from Tromsø. After breakfast, everyone went out on deck even though it was raining and cold. At 10 o’clock in the morning, we saw the first orcas, two of them. Breathless, we all stood and watched. For some of the guests it was the first time in their lives seeing orcas. I enjoyed their reactions, as did Szymon and Rinie, who stayed on the lookout to find more orcas. After a couple of hours, the time had come! Thousands of seagulls, a troubled water surface… Not far from the ship, just below the surface, one of nature’s greatest spectacles was taking place. Everyone got super excited, this was the moment we were hoping for!
“The adrenaline rushes through my body. Five minutes later we are close to the screeching seagulls and large dorsal fins loom out of the sea.”
Rinie tells us to put on our suits as quickly as possible. This is quite a job, but within 15 minutes we were all ready and out on deck. There we go, into the zodiac. The adrenaline rushes through my body. Five minutes later we are close to the screeching seagulls and large dorsal fins loom out of the sea. It is bursting with orcas, and they are creating a huge herring ball. We are very lucky! This doesn’t happen every week, Rinie tells me. I can hear from his voice that he too is impressed by what is going on. We are allowed into the water. At first I don’t see much and I have to get used to the drysuit. Then suddenly, a huge male orca swims right below me. I hear myself shriek of excitement. Before I realize it I am surrounded by orcas, it’s breathtaking! I forget the cold and feel completely one with this beautiful group of orcas. Moments later, two humpback whales join the feast and then suddenly a huge adult fin whale appears. I look underwater, above the water, behind me… there is something to see everywhere. It is truly incredible! After 15 unfathomable minutes, the feast is over and the orcas swim away. We carefully follow them with our zodiac for another hour which gives us great topside views. The animals come closer and closer and show themselves to us several times.
As the little bit of daylight we had today is fading away, it’s time to head back to Polarfront. As we go back I feel some tears coming, what have I experienced? Three species of whales, feeding off a baitball and we got to witness it all. It’s just unbelievable, a miracle. It doesn’t get any better than this, or does it?
By Maaike van der Knaap
Read more about Maaike’s orca expedition in part 2. Online soon!