Snorkeling with orcas: Visit the killer whales' herring hunt

Snorkeling with orcas: Visit the killer whales' herring hunt

Field report: Snorkeling with orcas in Skjervøy • Carousel Feeding • Humpback whales

from AGE ™ Travel Magazine
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Killer whale closeup Orca (Orcinus orca) - snorkeling with whales in Skjervoy Norway

How to Snorkel with Orcas and Humpback Whales? What is there to see? And how does it feel to swim amidst fish scales, herring and hunting orcas?
AGE™ was there with the provider Lofoten-Opplevelser Snorkeling with whales in Skjervøy.
Join us on this exciting tour.

Four days snorkeling with whales in Norway

We are located in Skjervøy, in north-eastern Norway. In the hunting ground of orcas and humpback whales. Dressed in dry suits, one-piece underwear and neoprene hoods, we are well equipped against the cold. That is also necessary, because it is November.

In a small RIB boat we cruise through the fjords and enjoy whale watching. Snow-capped mountains line the banks and we almost always have a sunset mood. We still have a few hours of daylight for our adventure, in December there will be a polar night.

Keep pulling humpback whales right next to our little boat. We can also observe orcas several times, even a family that has a calf with them. We are excited. And yet our focus this time is on something else: waiting for our chance to get in the water with them.

Snorkeling is easiest and most impressive when killer whales stay in one place for a long time and hunt there. But you need luck for that. In the first three days we find migrating whales. We still get the opportunity to experience individual animals under water. The moments are short, but we enjoy them to the fullest.

Timing is key to spotting migrating whales. If you jump too early, you're too far away to see anything. If you jump too late or need too much time to find your way under water, you will only see the tail fin or nothing. Migrating whales are fast and you become much more aware of that underwater than when you watch the whales themselves. Snorkeling is also included migrating whales is only possible if the animals are completely relaxed. And that's just as well. Only if the whales do not disturb the boat can the skipper ride alongside the animals, adapt to the speed of the whales and wait for a good moment to let his snorkelers into the water.


Wildlife ViewingWhale Watching • Norway • Snorkeling with whales in Skjervoy • Being a guest at a herring hunt of the orcas • Diashow

On the first day
we accompany several migrating orca groups by boat for almost an hour. It's beautiful to watch as the animals dive in and emerge at a steady pace. After some time, our skipper decides that we should try our luck with these orcas. They are relaxed and move mainly on the surface.
We jump. The water is warmer than expected but darker than I thought. I'm briefly irritated by the unusual buoyancy of the drysuit, then I turn my head in the right direction. Just in time to spot two orcas gliding past me in the distance. Orcas under water - madness.
We successfully manage two more jumps and once even see a family with a calf passing under water. A very successful start.
Orca family underwater - snorkeling with (Orcas Orcinus orca) in Skjervoy Norway

Orca family under water - snorkeling with orcas in Norway


On the second day
we are particularly lucky with a group of humpback whales. We count four animals. They drift, swim and rest. Short dives are followed by extended surface swims. We decide to give up the orca search and take our chance. Again and again we slide into the water and catch a glimpse of the huge marine mammals. When I first jump, all I see is the shimmering white of their large fins. The large body camouflages itself perfectly, blending with the dark depths of the sea.
I'll be luckier next time: Two of the giants pass me by. One of them is close enough to me that I can see him from head to tail. I stare at him spellbound and stare through my diving goggles. The one in front of me is one Humpback Whale. In person and in full size. Seemingly weightless, the massive body glides past me. Then the momentum of a single movement of its tail carries it out of reach of me.
In a hurry I forgot to put the snorkel in my mouth, but I'm noticing that until now. I emerge spluttering and climb back on board, grinning from ear to ear. My buddy tells enthusiastically that he even saw the eye of a whale. Face to face with one of the gentle giants of the sea!
Today we jump so often that we forget to count and at the end of the tour there are orcas as a bonus. Everyone on board is beaming. What a day.
Portrait of humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) underwater at Skjervoy in Norway

Portrait of a humpback whale underwater in the fjords of Norway


On the third day
bright sunshine greets us. The fjords look magnificent. Only when we are on board do we notice the cool wind. It's too wavy outside, informs our skipper. Today we must stay in the shelter of the bay. Let's see what can be found here. The skippers are on the phone with each other, but no one has seen orcas. A pity. But the whale watching with the humpback whales is first class.
Einer der humpback whales appears so close to our boat that we get wet from the whale's blow. The camera lens drips, but that's beside the point. Who can claim to have felt the breath of a whale?
A few jumps are also possible. Visibility is hampered by the waves today and the humpback whales are significantly further away than yesterday. Nevertheless, it is nice to see the majestic animals again and the sun's rays offer a wonderful lighting atmosphere under water.
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the sunlight near Skjervoy in Norway

Migrating humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the sunlight near Skjervoy in Norway


Stories about the wonderful moments in life

On the fourth day is our lucky day: Orcas hunting!

Killer whales (Orcinus orca) snorkeling with killer whales in Skjervoy Norway Lofoten-Opplevelser

Snorkeling with killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Norway

The sky is cloudy, the day is overcast. But we already find the orcas in the first bay today. What do we care about the lack of sunshine?

Even the first jump of the day makes my heart beat faster: two orcas swim under me. One of them turns his head slightly and looks up at me. Very short. He doesn't swim any faster or any slower, but he notices me. Aha, so you're there too, he seems to be saying. To be honest, he didn't really care about me, I think. That's probably a good thing. Nevertheless, I'm cheering inside: eye contact with an orca.

Air bubbles rise beneath me. Isolated and finely pearled. I look around searching. There's a dorsal fin back there. Maybe they'll come back. We are waiting. Again air bubbles from the depths. Clearer, more and then much more. I pay attention. A dead herring is floating towards the surface in front of me and slowly I'm beginning to understand what's going on down there. We're already in the middle. The orcas have called to hunt.

Male killer whale (Orcinus orca) and seabirds - Snorkeling with killer whales in Skjervoy Norway

Dorsal fin of a male killer whale snorkeling in the fjords

Fine air pockets used by orcas to hunt herring - Skjervoy Norway

Orcas use air bubbles to herd herring together.

As if in a trance, I stare into the bubbling, sparkling expanse. A curtain of air bubbles encloses me. Another orca swims past me. Right in front of my eyes I have no idea where he came from. Somehow he was suddenly there. Targeted, he disappears into the impenetrable, bubbling depths.

Then I perceive their sounds for the first time. Delicate and muted by the water. But clearly audible now that I focus on it. Chirping, whistling and chattering. The orcas communicate.

AGE™ Soundtrack Orca Sound: Orcas communicate while carousel feeding

Orcas are food specialists. The orcas hunting in Norway specialize in herring. To catch their main food they have developed an interesting hunting strategy involving the whole group.

Carousel feeding is the name of this hunting method, which is taking place among us right now. Together, the orcas round up a school of herring and try to separate part of the school from the other fish. They round up the separated group, circle them and drive them upwards.

And then I see it: the school of herring. Irritated and frightened, the fish swim towards the surface.

Herrings carousel feeding the orcas in Skjervoy Norway

Herrings carousel feeding the orcas in Skjervoy Norway

Snorkeling with Orcas in Skjervoy Norway - Carousel Feeding of Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)

Orca carousel feeding

And I'm in the middle of the fray. Everything under me and around me is moving. Orcas are suddenly everywhere too.

A lively whirling and swimming begins, which makes it absolutely impossible for me to perceive everything at the same time. Sometimes I look to the right, then to the left again and then quickly down. Depending on where the next orca is swimming.

I let myself drift, widen my eyes and marvel. If I didn't have a snorkel in my mouth, I would definitely gape.

Again and again one of the orcas that I am observing disappears behind the dense tangle of fish. Again and again an orca suddenly appears next to me. One swims past to the right, the other circles to the left and another swims towards me. Sometimes they are incredibly close. So close that I can even see the small sharp teeth as he polishes a herring. Nobody seems interested in us. We are not prey and we are not hunters, so we are unimportant. The only thing that matters to the orcas now are the fish.

They circle the school of herring, hold it together and control it. Again and again they expel air, using the air bubbles to chase the herring up and herd together. Then the water below me seems to boil and for a moment I'm just as disoriented as the swarm. Skillfully, the orcas gradually form a whirling ball of fish. This behavior is called herding.

Again and again I can watch orcas turning their white belly towards the school. I know that they dazzle the pegs and make it difficult for them to orient themselves. I know that this move is just one small piece of the puzzle in the grand hunting strategy of these intelligent marine mammals. Still, I can't help it - for me it's a dance. A wonderful underwater dance full of elegance and grace. A feast for the senses and a secret, beautiful choreography.

Most orcas are busy checking the herring, but I also see orcas eating from time to time. In fact, they're supposed to alternate, but in the general confusion I really can't make out these subtleties.

A stunned herring floats right in front of my camera. Another, with only the head and tail left, touches my snorkel. I quickly push both aside. No thank you. I didn't want to eat it after all.

More and more fish scales are floating between the waves, testifying that the orca hunt was successful. Thousands of shimmering, white, small dots in the dark, endless sea. They sparkle like a thousand stars in space and everywhere in between there are orcas swimming. Like a dream. And that's exactly what it is: a dream that came true.


Do you also dream of sharing the water with orcas and humpback whales?
Snorkeling with whales in Skjervøy is a unique experience.
Here you will find more information about equipment, price, the right season etc. for day trips.

Wildlife ViewingWhale Watching • Norway • Snorkeling with whales in Skjervoy • Being a guest at a herring hunt of the orcas • Diashow

Enjoy the AGE™ Photo Gallery: Whale Snorkeling Adventures in Norway.

(For a relaxed slide show in full format, simply click on a photo and use the arrow key to move forward)

Wildlife ViewingWhale Watching • Norway • Snorkeling with whales in Skjervoy • Being a guest at a herring hunt of the orcas • Diashow

This editorial contribution received external support
Disclosure: AGE™ were given discounts or free services as part of the report – by: Lofoten-Opplevelser; The press code applies: Research and reporting must not be influenced, hindered or even prevented by accepting gifts, invitations or discounts. Publishers and journalists insist that information be given regardless of accepting a gift or invitation. When journalists report on press trips to which they have been invited, they indicate this funding.
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Liability
The content of the article has been carefully researched and is based on personal experience. However, if information is misleading or incorrect, we assume no liability. If our experience does not match your personal experience, we assume no liability. Since nature is unpredictable, a similar experience cannot be guaranteed on a subsequent trip. Furthermore, circumstances can change. AGE™ does not guarantee topicality or completeness.
Source reference for text research

Information on site, interview with Rolf Malnes from Lofoten Oplevelser, as well as personal experiences on a total of four whale tours including snorkeling with drysuit whales in November 2022.

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