PART 2 OF MAAIKE’S ORCA SNORKELING EXPERIENCE
Day 3 – Meeting the humpbacks of Norway
The next day is a beautiful but turbulent one. The wind is strong and I have a feeling we won’t go snorkeling, so we decide to dress up warm and go out on deck. We have rented the thermal overalls from Waterproof Expeditions, which we mainly wear while snorkeling, but they are also very suitable to wear on cold days like these. We quickly head out on deck to see what the day will bring us. In the far distance, we see a couple of humpback whales and they seem to be in a playful mood. They jump out of the water several times and are headed our way!
Not much later, a group of about 20 humpbacks swims in front of our bow. From the other side, another group comes in and before we know it, we are surrounded by humpback whales. We can tell this is a special occasion. Counting the tails, there must be at least 56 individuals. Truly stunning!
Humpback whales are Daniëlla’s favorite animal, so she was all smiles. The humpbacks kept swimming, jumping and diving around our boat for about 3 hours. They were so close, I could barely capture them with my camera. The whales sometimes jumped out of the water right next to the boat, splashing the cold icy sea water right over us.
Again, it was pointed out to us that this is truly exceptional, something even the guides had never seen before. It was great to be surrounded by the giants of the ocean, a gift to us all. The mood on board became more and more festive. In the evening, we had a great time in the ships’ lounge, having a drink together, chatting, reading a book, writing a blog and sorting out our photos.
Day 4 – Colorful skies
This was the calmest day of the week, during which we did not see any orcas or humpback whales. We did go out in the zodiacs for a while, as there were supposed to be some orcas around, but they had suddenly disappeared again. So although we didn’t see any animals, it was great fun to sail through the fjords for about 1.5 hours in the zodiac. The sky was beautiful and for the first time in a week we saw the sun, which was very welcome. After this, we had a nice dinner and Szymon gave a lecture on orcas. Very interesting. I have lots of books about orcas but still learned something new. The day ended with seeing the Northern Lights! A beautiful sight, a great experience to witness.
Day 5 – The best day of my life!
Even though we didn’t see any whales yesterday, there wasn’t a moment where I started worrying about whether we would still see orcas. Very soon after breakfast we saw them again. We sailed with them for a bit and then, near the shore, saw that they were gathering in a large group.
The guides tell us to put on our dry suits and, in good spirits, we take the zodiac towards the orcas. It looks like they are once again making a bait ball. Very special, so close to the shore. We also keep seeing one small fin coming up, a very young orca, which is accompanied by two ‘uncles’ who stay close to the little one. Mother must be hunting. We are allowed into the water for snorkelling. Instead of swimming towards the group of orcas, I decide to swim to a lone orca. With me are two others of our group. It is really special to observe this calm, resting male and he in turn seems to be observing us too. He circles around us a few times and then, after about 5 minutes, decides to go to his group as well. The other two snorkelers follow while I stay behind to watch the spectacle from a distance. And then, the big male orca returns. All this while I am filming. At one point, the huge orca swims straight towards me and just before it almost bumps into me, he swims to the left. I voice a somewhat panicked cry, despite the fact that I am not at all afraid of orcas, but he is very big! What I feel is so much respect, and what I see is the most beautiful animal that has ever touched my heart (and my heart has already been touched by a lot of animals). Emotional as I am, I sob a few tears and make a sound in the process. The orca replies with the same sound! Surprised, I purposely make some squeaky sounds and the orca responds. This is how we swim around eachother for a total of 20 minutes. Sometimes he leaves for a moment and comes back again. At least 4 times he comes very close. If I had put out my hand I could have touched him, but out of respect for this mighty creature I hold myself back. At the last moment, he lingers in front of me for about a minute. I see his eye moving and notice that he is actually observing me before he finally swims away. I took a photo of this moment which is now hanging on the wall above the desk where I am typing this blog.
After this incredible encounter, we are called back to the Zodiac. The orcas move on after a successful herring hunt. At least, that’s what we think. A bit further out in the fjord we see another group orcas and ‘our’ orcas seem to join them. Because getting in and out of the zodiac is very exhausting, I decide to stay on the zodiac for a while and take some top side pictures with my camera. I just can’t imagine that we are so lucky, that today we will have another swim with the orcas at a herring ball. But the orcas keep gathering and the herring are jumping out of the water. Below us, all sorts of things are happening again. The batteries of our underwater cameras are completely dead so filming is no longer an option. After some doubts about whether I will go into the water again, Daniëlla persuades me to hop in one more time. I enter the water again and witness a giant herring ball. Black and white dancers surround the herring, whipping their tails. You can hear the sound of herrings thumping, the cries of the orcas. It really is feeding frenzy! We are in the middle of this chaos, yet the orcas are quietly going about their business. For miles around, there is not a humpback or fin whale to come and ‘ruin’ their party, so the process goes on and on. It is so breathtakingly beautiful to what these animals in the wild!
The orcas had not yet finished the herring ball when we headed back to Polarfront. There was a festive atmosphere on board. Some of our group had returned to the ship early because they were cold. I am glad I didn’t have that problem. My heart, body and mind are totally warmed by this gigantic spectacle that had just taken place before my eyes. We celebrate the great day with delicious wine, a good meal and a great speech by Rinie, even he had never experienced this before. We cheer, clap and share our experiences. At night, my dreams are filled with orcas.
Day 6 – Our last swim with orcas
Our last full day. “Could we have another go?” is the first thing I think when I open my eyes. Even if we wouldn’t see any more orcas or whales today, our week was so great that I would go home completely satisfied. The atmosphere at breakfast is less exuberant. Nobody is looking forward to leaving the ship tomorrow. The ship that in a few days has come to feel like home with the Norwegian fjords as our backyard. I have no appetite and eat little after which I go out on deck to look for orcas. All I see are the mighty fjords and very far away, a humpback whale. It’s nice to be alone on deck for a while. Not much later… yes, there they are again… the orcas.
Dry suit on, and in the zodiac. It all goes much more smoothly than on day 1. I have decided not to wear fins anymore because I I swim much easier without them. We approach the orcas and soon see several humpback whales in the water. We are in exactly the same spot as yesterday. Will you believe it when I tell you, once again, a baitball/humpball was formed? Some of yesterday’s group of orcas had apparently found a good spot in this fjord.
“In front of us, about 15 black dorsal fins emerge from the water”
Suddenly things got a little more exciting when, right next to Daniëlla, a huge humpback whale surfaced. We managed to capture this. The humpback surfaced about 4 times with great force, after which the baitball fell apart and the orcas called it a day. Once again, we were able to enjoy this natural spectacle for more than 20 minutes. We got back in the zodiacs and followed the orcas for a while to see if they would develop another baitball somewhere. Against a sleek pink sky surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks, we sat silently peering over the smooth water, while in front of us about 15 black dorsal fins emerged from the water with some regularity. It was done for today. A dignified farewell to the animals.
We concluded our week with a final dinner. I had to swallow away some tears. Tears of joy for all our wonderful adventures. But also tears of sadness because it was almost over. I have grown attached to the people working on the ship. To Rinie and Szymon, who kept reminding us about the incredible and rare encounters we had this week. Our beautiful cabin, the sea, the coziness of the ship and also to the group of fellow adventurers.
Rinie and Szymon closed the evening with another speech. Fortunately, I filmed almost all of these to remind myself how special our week has been. Otherwise, I wouldn’t believe it in a few months time when we are back home, back to our normal lives. After a pleasant evening of cocktails and tasty snacks, the following morning it was really time to leave the ship. After breakfast, all suitcases were loaded off the ship. That was it, the best week of my life had come to an end.
Now, 3 months later, we are still looking at our videos and photos every day. I have created a photo album, opened a YouTube channel and we are creating new dreams. This was the first, but definitely not the last time we went on a trip with Waterproof Expeditions. The orcas captured my heart even more than ever and it was great to undertake this adventure together.
By Maaike van der Knaap
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