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      July 2014 > Having a whale of a time

Having a whale of a time

OK, so it’s a corny heading but it sums up perfectly the sheer joy and elation of seeing cetaceans at close quarters.

I’ve just come back from the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, way beyond the Arctic Circle, and I was fortunate enough to see a pod of orcas swimming along the coast. There were about ten of them and, although too far offshore to photograph in any detail with my 18-105mm lens, I could see clearly the characteristic black and white markings that make them so, well ... unmistakeable. Fortunately, I had my binoculars with me so concentrated on watching them coming up for air until they slowly disappeared from view. (Trust me – there are orcas in this photo!)

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

Inspired by this completely unexpected sighting, I formulated a cunning plan. Rising at 3.30am the next day, I headed north to Andenes, the most northerly point on the islands. Andenes is famed for its 98% success rate on its whale-watching trips – sperm whales are known to congregate only an hour’s sailing offshore – and so I knew I couldn’t fail to get up close and personal with the largest carnivore in the world. By 8.30am I was waiting at the door of the booking office as staff prepared to open up. What could possibly go wrong? But oh, how quickly excitement can turn to heart-breaking frustration and deflation? A storm was rolling in; the captain wouldn’t take the boat out; the sea was too rough; all sailings were cancelled – and tomorrow I’d be flying home...

Self-guided walking holidays in Norway

Events, namely the weather, conspired against me but such is the way of things with whale watching. I was to be disappointed but, on another archipelago many miles away, one group of whale-watchers had the trip of a lifetime when they had a surprise visit from a couple of real heavyweights.

Self-guided walking holidays in the Azores

Off the Azores in the Atlantic, Terra Azul (the whale-watching group that Inntravel uses on our holidays to the Azores) reported sightings in July of a fin whale and a blue whale! A real surprise as they are not supposed to be around at this time of year. This no doubt made the day, the holiday – if not the year – of those lucky enough to be on board the ship at the time.

Self-guided walking holidays in the AzoresSightings depend on the time of year, though the islands boast four year-round resident species of cetacean – sperm whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin and Risso’s dolphin – plus five migratory species – blue whale, fin whale, beaked whale, spotted dolphin and striped dolphins.

During the summer you can jump aboard one of Terra Azul’s ribs (a Rigid Inflatable Boat) and head out for what must be a most magical and enchanting experience – to swim with dolphins.

This is a well-controlled exercise that can only be undertaken if the chosen pod of dolphins – bottlenose, common and Atlantic spotted are the best – are amenable to the idea and are not getting stressed.

My advice – if you want to go whale watching with a high chance of seeing something really interesting and big – is to head for an ocean archipelago: like the Azores, the Canary Islands, the Faroe Islands or the Lofoten Islands, for example, where deep water close to land attracts the big players and the shallows are home to their more playful, though equally captivating, cousins.

Posted: 31/07/2014 11:36:22 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: Azores, Canary, Faroe, Islands, Norway, whales, wildlife

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