Photo of the month (November 2023): Arctic Orca
Skjervøy, in Northern Norway, is nowadays one of the best places in the world to see pools of orcas (Orcinus orca). During the winter, in the cold waters of the Arctic fjords, the Cetaceans find their preferred food: the herring, a fish from the Clupeidae family. Along with the orcas, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are the biggest animals of that waters, providing exciting sightings of these amazing mammals. Surrounded by snowy mountains, the fjords in Skjervøy are definitely worth the visit once in Norway.
Last month I took my second trip to the Arctic Norway. The first one was from Nov 14th to 30th 2022 and this year I travelled from Nov. 04th to 14th. As the second ended exactly one year after the beginning of the first, I consider both as one big trip lasting one month in total.
The particularities of each trip made them unique and complementary. The most important aspects to consider were that the landscape this year was whiter due to early snow, and that I finally went for a Cetaceans watching tour in Skjervøy. Well, last year I took a one day trip from Tromsø to Skjervøy and saw lots of Orcas, but I felt this rapid experience was incomplete. I really wanted more time in Skjervøy and better encounters with the Orcas – and why not sighting a humpback, perhaps my favourite living organism on the planet.
With that in mind, I decided to dedicate three days to Skjervøy. Not only going on RIB boat tours, but also something crazier. My first and second days were dedicated to snorkelling with the Orcas in the cold waters of the Arctic.
A parenthesis is important here: the water is really cold for us humans, but maybe not for the herring. They were usually found in southern latitudes in the Arctic, in regions like Andøy, but since 2017 they shifted their winter migration pattern to Skjervøy, probably because climate change is causing warmer waters further South. Which means that in the next few years, herring might migrate further north. With them, the Orcas will also abandon Skjervøy, as they already abandoned Andøy. So, probably in the near future, Skjervøy won’t be the sanctuary for Orca watchers anymore. The burning question is for how long will herring, and consequently, orcas, will habit these waters.
Despite the cold, snorkelling with the Orcas is a unique experience. Each time we went to the water we spent from 2 to 5 minutes and the encounters with the orcas were fast, but being face-to-face with an 8 metres long animal swimming in front of you is unforgettable – as it is the cold after getting out of the water back to the boat.
Nevertheless, the time spent on the boat while waiting to snorkel is also a great experience. We saw the orcas and humpbacks most of the time, while the landscape in the surroundings of the fjords was also amazing. At the end of the first day, I took what I consider my favourite photo from November 2023. I could have chosen auroras or colourful blue hour skies, but this black and white photo of an orca, probably a male because of the shape of the fin, made me feel very happy with the whole trip. Happy not only for seeing the orcas, but because it documents this beautiful animal in its current environment. The fjords of Skjervøy are unique and beautiful, and only time will tell whether this portrait might be possible in this region in a couple of years.