All my bags weren’t fully unpacked, and mylaundry had not yet fully dried, but there I was packing again for my next adventure. I was rushing, and I was excited. I love Norway, and I love being with orcas. I’ve been there many times before, but this time was different because I had not been there since 2006, and I was longing to return to the majestic landscape, the orcas, and the northern lights.
Although it is not clear yet what brought the herring back to the fjords, they have returned. Of course, the orcas came with them, and BigAnimals expeditions was there to see it all go down.
It is important to mention something here – I have been asked many times, “Is it safe to swim or free dive with orcas?” Yes, it is absolutely safe. BigAnimals expeditions has lead orca trips from 1992 through 2006 From professional productions like NatGeo TV, to private individuals seeking adventure, we’ve safely introduced over 180 divers to this adventure.
A big thank you to Pierre, Olav, Tony, Barbara, Joaquin, Peter, Olga, Vladi and Sveltan (pictured right) who made this experience so wonderful. There only thing more exciting and inspiring than being in the wilderness and the water is sharing the experience with our guests and crew.
This year’s expedition was among the best I’ve had in all my 40 years of underwater exploration and photography, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share the pictures from a few epic moments with you.
“What a day! Probably the best day ever that I had as guide for more then 10 years, it was simply incredible” – Tony Meyer
LUNCH FOR THREE
The first moment happened while we were swimming and adjusting to the arrival of a new Orca pod. While we were drifting we came close to another small pod. I looked underwater to check them out, and what I saw was just out of this world.
Three generations of Orcas were sharing and feeding on a single bird.
I’ve never seen this type of sharing before, and I was spellbound.
Luckily, the camera can do the talking for me, because words wouldn’t do the event justice.
In the interest of full-disclosure, the original image was in color. I converted the version to the right to black and white because it made it easier to see the orcas and their prey. Be sure to click the image to enlarge to full-size.
One day the herring were overflowing from the four fishing vessel around us, and we were surrounded for five hours by over 200 orcas and dozens of humpback whales. We were treated to a glorious feeding spectacle.
For 22 years, I have been wooing the orcas in Norway. I had many remarkable and close encounters with them, but I’d never had one before like the one I had today. I was kissed by an orca for the first time
It was the end of a clear sky day and limited light as the sun rise no more than 10 degrees over the horizon, we had only four hours of daylight and it was cold.
It was getting dark on the surface, and even more so in the water. I was shooting with a 17 – 35mm Nikon lens at 2.8 and 1/125 speed, and I had to raise the ISO to 3200 just to get an image of what my eyes could see.
I was just about to ask the skipper to head back home when I saw the family of eight orcas moving just behind our idle vessel. I slid into the water and saw nothing at first. Visibility is less than 20 feet and everything was a dark green. All of a sudden, a white mark appeared at the edge my visibility. I aimed the camera while focusing on the white spot, which quickly got bigger, and bigger, and BIGGER, until if filled up my entire frame.
I stood my place and kept shooting until it was only a meter away. The male orca stopped in front of my lens as if to pose for his picture and then gently turned to my left. I shot this full-frame, uncut, un-cropped image.
(Like before, in the interest of full-disclosure, the original image was in color. I converted the version to the right to black and white because it made it easier to see the orcas and their prey. Be sure to click the image to enlarge to full-size.)
Mother Nature showed us her best hand in the last hour of light on the very last day. We witnessed carouseling – the unique, cooperate feeding by a by a pod of about 15 Orcas, mostly males and four young calves, who were about three to four weeks old. They were joined by Humpback whales, who were eager to get in on the action.
While i was filming the Orcas feeding action they suddenly all moved away from me and the Herring bait ball I was near. Soon after a dark form appeared. Much bigger than orca, it was like a submarine was moving toward me; a humpback whale.
As it approached, I was paddled backwards, but not fast enough. The humpback whale outstretched its pectoral fin and gently pushed me away, so it could swim through the bait ball without me in the way.
Even though I saw the Humpback coming, I was startled when it let out a big exhalation. I was rocked by its powerful booming sound and fishy smell. I was only ten feet away from its nostrils, it was sooooo loud, and soooo very close to me, but very invigorating. Thank you humpback.
I had to push the ISO to 4000 and open the aperture to 2.8 to just barely get the 1/125 shutter speed I needed to freeze the action.
It was tough shooting, but it was a glorious 30 minutes and wonderful way to end ten days of orca image hunting, and now I am ever more inspired to return next season…
For now, it was time to leave Norway and head back home. I said goodbye to the orcas, and they replied in kind – twice. All ten members of the pod raised their heads together and Spyhoped…only two meters from the boat.
I was beside myself, helplessly seated on the side of the vessel with the housing ready to go. Sadly, I missed those shots – twice.
I was not going to miss the goodbye a third time, and when a member of the pod showed up again to say goodbye, I was ready for him.
Although the orcas and my guests were the Super stars of the expedition, I almost forgot to mention what goes on a night in Norway. The northern lights are more beautiful than any fireworks I’ve ever seen, the display goes on for hours, and is a sight that’s as awe-inspiring as it is mesmerizing.
I can’t wait to go back next year, and I hope you’ll be there to join me.