The Christmas dinner of the ocean
Around five billion herring make their way to the stretch of water between Kvaløya in Troms and Andøya in Vesterålen to spawn during the period between November and February. The herring are food for the ravenous predators of the ocean, or more specifically, whales. Killer whales, fin whales and humpback whales follow the herring and gorge themselves on huge quantities of the ocean's treasure.
Wolves of the sea
Killer whales, the largest of the dolphin family, are experts at catching herring. They live in groups and work together to hunt for herring. The whales encircle and close in on the herring shoals, making them more and more compact. Then each individual whale enters the shoal to feed while the others keep watch. A well-aimed blow against the surface of the water with a tail fin knocks the herring unconscious and makes them easy to catch. This hunting drama can be clearly seen from the boats, and the killer whales may even swim across to the boats to say hello afterwards. Killer whales eat around 100 kilos (220 pounds) of herring per day.
Humpback whales, which are large baleen whales, also know their visiting times. Humpback whales do not give the herrings individual treatment, but chase them up to the surface, then gather speed at great depths and swim towards the surface with their mouths open, swallowing several hundred herring in a single mouthful while the seawater filters out through the baleen. The 25-tonne humpback whales briefly appear weightless in the air before smacking down against the surface of the water, to the open-mouthed amazement of onlookers.
Fin whales and sperm whales
The world's second largest whale, the fin whale, also visits Andfjorden to take part in the feeding frenzy. Fin whales swim with their jaw angled into the herring shoal, filter out the seawater using their baleen, and then swallow the herring in amounts equivalent to hundreds of litres (hundreds of pints). The sperm whale, on the other hand, is a permanent resident and spends the entire year in the deep sea channels of Bleiksdjupet off the coast of Andenes. Young males in particular can be found here in winter, while the adult males are down in the Azores looking for females.
On whale safari
This ocean banquet can often be seen from land on Vesterålen, Senja and Kvaløya. It is of course much better to get out onto the sea and experience it all at close hand. In winter, it often only takes a few minutes from setting out until seeing the first group of killer whales. Spending too much time on each group is avoided, and a search will be made for the next group after half an hour.
Experienced divers have a real treat in store, or more specifically, diving with killer whales. This might sound frightening, but killer whales do not consider humans to be prey, and as highly intelligent animals, can see that humans do not belong in the water. Divers entering the water do not swim in search of killer whales. They allow the killer whales to come to them. Swimming with groups which include young is avoided, as it is impossible to predict what will happen if divers come between mothers and their young.
Various whale safari trips
Hvalsafari Andenes sets out every Tuesday and Friday with its large boats, which have lounge areas and spacious decks. This option is readily accessible to everyone and is considered to be the most comfortable.
Sea Safari Andenes uses RIB boats to get close to both the waves and the whales. This allows people to be closer to both the whales and the sea without being in any danger. Sea Safari Andenes also offers diving trips with killer whales.
Many guests set aside a couple of days in Andenes for whale safaris, allowing them the chance to try both trips. Whales are living creatures, and it is therefore impossible to say which species of whale will turn up. It is a good idea to take a seasickness tablet, as the trips take place on the open sea in winter. Strong winds and unfavourable wind directions, particularly from the northeast, mean that excursions sometimes have to be cancelled. Any decision will be made shortly before departure.
Before and after Christmas
The herring appear sometime in November and have stayed until early February in recent years. December and January are therefore likely to be the best months in which to see the whales. The sun is often low in the sky or below the horizon during this period, and the tours take place during the few hours of daylight, often with amazing colours in the sky. Andenes has a clear view across the open sea towards the northwest, and is therefore a good place from which to see the Northern Lights. If the whale safaris are cancelled due to storms and bad weather, the National Tourist Route on the seaward side of Andøya is a good place to watch the storms.