Written by am on 20.04.2018 at 18:31.
With the observation of sperm whales along the Norwegian coast, a childhood dream came true.
Equipped with various non-fiction books and decorating my room with posters of whales instead of pop stars, I was firmly convinced as a child to become a marine biologist. As a resident of a landlocked country, this has proven to be more difficult than expected. Ultimately what remained of my intention was the hope that one day I will be able to observe the ocean giants in their natural habitat with my own eyes.
Unlucky in Tromsø
The largest city in Northern Norway is considered as perfect place to watch whales. Due to its location on the warm Gulf Stream in Tromsø a milder climate prevails than in other places in the far north and the sea around the city remains ice-free even in winter. From the beginning of October, herring swarms sweep into the sea around Tromsø and attract orcas and humpback whales to feed.
Unfortunately, in “the Paris of the North”, how Tromsø is also called due to its vibrant life, we were told that we are too early and that the whales had not yet arrived. I was very disappointed, but we received the advice to try our luck on the Vesteralen, in a small town on the tip of the Andoya island. In a small town called Andenes, we were told, sperm whales can be watched off the coast all year round.
The Vesteralen, a little paradise
“Lofoten” is most likely the answer when you ask for the most beautiful places in Norway. That the "little sister" of the Lofoten, the Vesteralen archipelago, is no less impressive, has revealed to us very soon.
On some ways that lead through the Vesteralen islands, we felt like its first explorers, in the midst of lonesome wild nature. Just arrived on the Andoya island, we spotted a full-grown moose, standing right in the middle of the road. It was so surprised to see us, that it escaped immediately, slipping on the wet path and hastily climbing (!) over the barren rock face.
A few minutes after this exciting encounter - we were still digesting our first moose sighting - we noticed a white-tailed eagle hovering above us. Unimpressed by our presence, the majestic bird landed not far from us on one of the few trees in the landscape.
The Vesteralen are amazing, so apparently unspoilt and we were grateful having made this detour. We almost felt a bit ignorant that without the advice we had received in Tromsø to visit the Vesteralen for whale watching, we might have omitted this paradise when heading to the Lofoten.
Where is the sperm whale?
Before boarding the ship, all participants of the whale safari were gathered at the Andenes Whale Center. On a guided tour through the museum we learned more about the great marine mammals.
I was relieved that the opportunity to watch a whale was more than a tourist attraction and that the tour operator also made the transfer of knowledge and the awareness raising about the whales’ threat from humans a part of this experience. In addition, on each whale watching trip, a staff member of the Whale Center records each sighting and identifies the whales by the shape of their tail fins for research purposes.
Accompanied by sunshine but heavy wind, we went on board of the ship, which should bring us to the whales. Andenes is a promising starting point for conducting whale watching since there the European continental shelf abruptly drops to depths of over 2000 meters, where sperm whales find a rich food supply. Mainly male sperm whales stay there for several years to feed and grow, while females and juveniles live in warmer waters.
Pleased to meet you, Moby Dick
After about 15 minutes cruising, the captain turned off the engine of the ship. We scanned the sea with underwater microphones for the sperm whales’ typical clicking sounds which they use for echolocation and communication.
Everyone was staring at the sea. I nervously wondered if I was looking in the right direction. Will I miss something? But nothing. Silence. The wind rocked the boat violently. How relieved I was that at least I did not suffer from seasickness.
The captain decided to try our luck at another spot. Then again: engine off, eavesdropping on the ocean floor. Suddenly we heard the clicking sound of a hunting sperm whale. How beautiful it sounded to my ears. And then the whale appeared on the surface. Gigantic. I felt the endorphins rising. "Now the time has come: a whale. Right in front of my nose.” I had to tell myself. After 10 minutes on the surface, where neither I nor the other observers left the whale out of sight, it dived and disappeared.
Another sighting was granted us on this day. I could have stayed on the sea for hours. But I was indescribably happy having seen these fascinating animals up close and truly grateful for the privilege of having fulfilled my childhood dream.