Part two of Documenting Arctic Giants in the Fjords of Northern Norway By AmbassaDiver™ Birgitta Mueck
In the afternoon we started to head back to the local fishing harbour, when a big group of Orcas rushed into the fjord. The animals energetically started to circle around in the water not far from our boat. In my excitement I forgot about the intense cold I’d felt earlier, and carefully slipped into the dark, salty sea. There was about 200 meters of water beneath me, and a huge school of herring a bit further ahead. Keeping a certain distance from the hunt, I watched the cooperation and coordination of the Orcas as they efficiently worked the school of herring into a tight bait-ball.
They did so by circling the fish, blowing bubbles and showing their white bellies to frighten their prey, a technique called carousel feeding. This time however, I was surprised, as suddenly the Orcas left the bait-ball they’d been working so hard to gather. Normally they would start to stun and eat the herring at this stage, but instead all the Orcas were now keeping their distance, hovering in the water, just looking at the tight ball of fish they had molded.
“What now?” I wondered, while watching the scene from quite close. Suddenly, the herring started to swim straight towards me. I tried my best to keep my distance from the fast moving school of fish but they were so fast that I soon found myself surrounded by them. It all happened so fast; the herring surrounding me were hit by panic when huge amounts of bubbles started rising from the depths. I knew what was about to happen, but it was too late to escape. Holding on to my camera, trying to keep my legs and arms close to my body, I could feel, and see, the water boiling with bubbles and panicking fish. That was when the great giants, with immense power and speed, emerged from the depths, surfacing with their huge jaws wide open. Totally out of this world, I found myself surrounded by lunge feeding humpback whales!! Up to 15 meters long, these baleen whales had just taken advantage of the Orcas previous work to gather the fish! By shooting up to the surface with their jaws wide open the herring were swallowed in one go before the massive whales crashed back down into the dark water.
As suddenly as the giants appeared, the Humpback whales disappeared into the deep fjord again, leaving me alone in the turbulant water caused by their powerful movements. Without a doubt, this was a Humpback encounter I’d never even dared to dream about!
By the beginning of February the season of winter whales was about to reach an end. Most of the whales had already left the fjords of Troms, about two weeks earlier than previous year. How many more years the Orcas and Humpbacks will appear in the sheltered winter fjords of Troms, nobody can tell. Lead by their food source, the migration and appearance of the whales is dependent on the silver of the sea; the herring.
While watching the fabulous northern lights playfully dancing in the starry night’s sky, I reflected over the many amazing wildlife encounters the last months held. It make me feel so grateful and happy for the countless wonderful moments I experienced with the winter whales this season. Like the whales, it was now time for us to head south towards new adventures. Who knows, maybe I will meet my beloved giants again, somewhere out in the vast, blue Ocean…