Where the Whales are….


When we were very little, my sister and I were lucky enough to be able to join my parents on Dad’s many work trips: lovely long journeys on big luxury passenger liners.  My memories are a bit patchy, but include double decker swings, elephants being hoisted onto the deck and Neptune arriving on board when we crossed the equator to hand out certificates to all those who crossed the equator for the first time.  As Captain, my dad was always dressed to perfection and by all accounts ran his ship with near-military precision.

My daddy is the Captain…

On one of these trips – I must have been about three years old – my parents were getting ready for a gala-dinner and had tucked us kids up in our beds. Not remotely interested in sleeping, I crept out of bed as soon as they had left, found my tricycle and started cycling up and down the corridors outside our apartment, still dressed in my pyjamas. The first officer spotted me in the otherwise deserted corridor and pointed out sternly that I should be in bed. According to the story, I looked him up and down, and replied haughtily: “My daddy is the captain!” I can’t remember the occasion, and have no idea what I could possibly have meant to achieve, but whatever it was, it didn’t work out in my favour. The First Officer unceremoniously picked me up and took me straight back to bed.  Never one for learning lessons, perhaps it is that same attitude that led me to claim that I had never been seasick in my entire life. I am a captain’s daughter after all… 🙂 Well, in the summer of 2007 I was finally tested.

Did you know that sperm whales can live for 80 years and that a male sperm whale can be as long as 20 metres? Minke whales live for 50 years and are ‘only’ 10 metres long.  Orcas weigh about 180 kg when they are born.

In search of whales

Just north of Andenes in the Vesterålen Islands, in upper Norway, the ocean floor suddenly falls away to enormous depths, the result of a huge deep-sea canyon. Think of it as an enormous wall dropping down below your ship. The warm gulf stream quite literally bumps into this wall and creates water currents which trap lots of deep sea fish.  It’s no surprise then that this area is much loved by whales. It’s the whale version of food heaven and the place for which we were heading on our first back packing holiday, in search of whales.

Tromso Hurtigruten.JPGWith hindsight, perhaps it was a mad thing to do, at the very least it was an ambitious plan which involved a fair bit of complex travel planning. To get to Andenes, we travelled from Rovaniemi in the north of Finland right across the Arctic Circle to Tromsø – a coach journey of about 15 hours. In Tromsø, once the home of Norwegian polar exploring, we boarded the Hurtigruten ferry to Risøyhamn on the Vesterålen Islands, where, according to my internet source, a local bus would be waiting for us at 11.00am precisely take us to Andenes on the north side of the island.  Some schedule to keep 🙂

Luckily we were not disappointed, and so we arrived at what felt like the very end of the world. The Vesterålen Islands lie further north than Iceland, and the harshness of the weather gives it an inhospitable look. We had reserved a family room in the local youth hostel and booked a whale safari in advance so we were set for a great experience.

Andenes lovely view.JPGThe family room was the first surprise – not only did it sleep our family of five, but it could easily have accommodated another 4 or 5 families! Located on the first floor of a refurbished weather-beaten fish loft, the room offered wall-to-wall windows and had views across the Arctic Ocean in almost every direction. It was nothing short of breathtaking.

Having dumped our backpacks and done some exploring, we found our way to the offices of Hval Safari AS and prepared for our trip out on the ocean. After an obligatory walk around the whale museum (well worth it) and sea sickness tablets (not so)  we made our way onto the ship that would take us to the best whale watching spot in just under 2 hours.

Did you know that a whale’s tail is the equivalent of our finger print?  They are all individual and have personal markings.  A whale can dive for upto half an hour or more before coming up for air.

A choppy trip

At this point I’d love to be able to tell you that we had glorious weather and that none of us got sea sick, but that would be a big lie! It was cold, windy and choppy. Within 30 minutes Francesca was looking decidedly peeky and to be honest I wasn’t feeling very much better. But there is one thing true about being on a ship – there simply isn’t anywhere to go and so all you can do is get on with it. Safely tucked away in the lower part of the deck, wrapped in blankets, we sipped our hot mugs of tea hoping for the best.

Andenes The nearby hotel.JPG

When I heard the shouts that whales had been spotted, I staggered onto the upper deck out front, determined not to miss the moment, and there they were…. Truly amazing, truly breathtaking. And truly stomach turning….the swell that was. I missed most people by the whisker of a hair, but poor Tim got the full load. I recovered quickly as did my wounded ego, and fortunately so did Tim’s sense of humour, though his trousers were never quite the same after that. 🙂

What made it all bearable (for me at least) was the sight of the whales. We saw five in the space of half an hour or so, each of them coming up for air allowing themselves to be photographed before gracefully diving down to the bottom of the ocean for their next bit of dinner. Sadly we don’t have any perfect photographs of the event, the camera just wasn’t up to the weather or the speed at which the whales would suddenly dive out of sight. However, it was a magical experience imprinted in our minds forever.

The journey back to shore was uneventful. As we set off to find somewhere to have our supper, we gave the local fry-up a miss. We just didn’t fancy the whale burgers that were on the menu.

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  1. Michiel
    Posted April 25, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Great post! And that first picture is really amazing! 🙂

  2. Amber McPhetridge
    Posted April 25, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    I can see it all my friend! What a great adventure! We went whale watching in Hawaii and it truly was an amazing thing to see.

  3. Elske D. Waite
    Posted May 18, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful 🙂 Best one yet!! Such good times…

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