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Snorkeling with Orcas

Nearly everybody is enjoying warm climate, searching for sunny holidays, looking for diving places with crystal clear turquoise water in summer or winter time. Now try to imagine it is January, a month when most people prefer to skip the winter. Not us. We are a group of crazy Dutch people who are travelling to the northern part of Norway to go snorkeling with orcas, or killer whales, as they are also called. 

   

Outside it is -15 degrees Celsius and the wind is howling around the wheelhouse. This is the third day of our expedition and we haven’t seen a single orca yet. There are ten of us in the wheelhouse, our gazes trained on the endless stretch of water ahead – at least as far as this is possible. On account of the cold, the wind and the splashing water, the windows have frosted over and we can hardly look through them. I notice that I am becoming a little impatient. Just as I am about to head downstairs for a hot cup of tea, I see that our guide, Birgitta, keeps staring through her binoculars at a specific point and is whispering softly to her colleague, Eirik. When they are certain that they are seeing what they think they are seeing, they yell “ORCAS”! In the distance, I see many birds hovering above the sea, but no orcas – until we slowly approach them and I see their immense dorsal fins rising above the water. Wow!

 Karin Brussard • OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm f2.8  • PT-EP14

Everyone starts running across the boat, putting on their dry suits. Suddenly, the cold is no longer on our minds. The zodiacs are hoisted alongside the ship and we climb aboard them. Slowly, we approach the orcas and everyone on board is silent in anticipation. This has been our goal and then all of a sudden we feel the tension building among us. Very soon now, we will enter the water to go snorkelling with killer whales! They are certainly very large and it certainly is very cold.

   

 Karin Brussard • OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm f2.8  • PT-EP14

Are we really going into the water? Birgitta moors the zodiac and a group of some twenty orcas slowly starts swimming in our direction. They are helping themselves to a school of herring that they are systematically driving upwards. At Birgitta’s signal, we glide overboard as silently as possible. I am holding my breath. This is what I came here to do. In the distance, I see the dark contours of a number of orcas. I have my camera ready, but unfortunately they are too far away to photograph. When they have left our field of vision, we climb aboard the zodiac to repeatedly slip into and out of the water. 

 Karin Brussard • OM-D E-M1 Mark II • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm f2.8  • PT-EP14

Taking good photographs turns out to be quite difficult. This is because we are so far up in the north of Norway and because it is only January, when the sun hardly appears above the horizon. Twilight is soon approaching, and I still haven’t taken a good photograph of an orca. This is, of course, a fantastic experience, but my goal was really to capture a killer whale on film. We make one final attempt. 

Once again, the group of orcas is just a little too far away to photograph. Just when I, slightly disappointed, start to lift my head above the water to locate the zodiac, looking in the far left corner of my eye I see a blurry shadow approaching me. It is one of the large males, who is inquisitively swimming towards me. I hold my breath, tense, and press the shutter button to take a photograph.

Karin Brussard • OM-D E-M5 MarkII • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12mm f2.0  • PT-EP13 

In the end, I can only take one picture, because I am absolutely stunned by the beauty of this animal. Before I embarked on this journey, many people asked me if the idea of swimming among killer whales wasn’t frightening to me. I can now wholeheartedly say “no”. What an amazing experience!.

We are filled with joy as we climb aboard and, as the grand finale, the entire group of orcas starts circling our zodiac and we take off in the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen!