What it is Like to Swim with Wild Orcas in Norway

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

January 26, 2019

Chase Teron

Swimming with Orcas in Norway is our most exciting, powerful and spiritual wildlife photography workshop and experience. When you meet an Orca in their natural habitat for the first time you are left breathless. Here is a short photo journal of what happens when you swim with wild Orcas in Norway, 200km North of the Arctic Circle.

A pod of Orcas strategically hunt herring in the narrow Norwegian Arctic Fjords

We board the ship with camera backpacks, camera housings, our snorkel, fins and our 7mm wetsuits. It's 7:30am and the sun is set to rise at 8:30am and setting at around 2:30pm - what initially seems like a short day will turn into one of thee most special, everlasting days of your life.

The first thing we do as we get on the boat is put our wetsuits on. This year we did 7mm wetsuits with hoods, gloves and boots all the same. There's a rhythm that happens and by our 4th and final day everyone has perfected it. Usually within 5 minutes of leaving the harbour we spot Humpbacks and Orcas. However, it may not be the best locations to swim with them as they could be in transit. 

Here is professional photographer and guest on our trip Roman Königshofer (@rawmeyn) gearing up and getting his underwater housing together

The process if you are well versed should take 10 minutes to get your wetsuit on and your underwater housing put together. For underwater housing systems we will post a separate review of our Aquatica Housing for our Canon setup.

Then when we see the wild Orcas and the Humpback Whales our boat keeps it's distance. We act in a very respectful manner to ensure we do not intercept the transit of the whales nor their feeding. It's disturbing to see how some of the locals act in regards to whale watching and crowding the whales. Respectful tourism and whale watching and viewing should happen at a safe distance as the boats can cause serious harm to the whales and the snorkelers nearby. 

We sit on the back of the boat and wait patiently for the right moment with our professional wildlife guide nearby.

That very moment when it's time to jump in the frigid Arctic waters, you maintain focus on the moving direction of a male's 6ft dorsal fin or the smaller female dorsal, meanwhile internally you have a quick second of doubt then adrenaline and excitement.

The male dorsal fin can reach up to 6ft in height

Before the initial Arctic plunge off the back of the boat, your heart is beating out of your chest you feel the temporary warmth in your 7mm wetsuit, your snorkel masks on, camera housings in hand and you hear Jonas the wildlife guide say calmly "Let's give it a go". 

From the surface what we see are the dorsal fins, the routine break of the surface for air, and the odd spy hop as the Orcas survey the area. Then when you first jump in you see this: Nothing.

The underworld of the Orcas habitats

Floating with your head on a swivel looking for the Orca Pods

Then you are bobbing your head up to find the new direction of the dorsal fin then back down into the water to see if they are within viewing distance with the visibility around 50 - 100ft. We stay relatively close together as a group in a semi circle and then magic happens and if you're really lucky and the Orca is curious, you will get to make eye contact with the world's apex predator. They are peaceful, spiritual and intelligent creatures and their level of consciousness is unlike any other. 

These photos are taken with a Canon 5D Mark IV and a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens with our Aquatica Digital Underwater Housing. To put it in perspective, this Orca shot here below was 10-15ft from me. They swim very close and at times the Orcas will stop and stare at you which is the best for photo opportunities. Otherwise, they gracefully swim on by at a relatively slow speed so you can have an opportunity to photograph them.

Our sessions with the Orcas take place far away from any other tourist whale watching boat and within the Northern Norway fjord system and each swimming session averages around 5 to 15 minutes however, we had swimming sessions with Orcas and Humpbacks that lasted 1hr to nearly 6hrs which was incredible. The 7mm wetsuits were really put to the test here and I would highly recommend renting or purchasing a drysuit to ensure maximum comfortability. 

We only offer our tour currently in November with two weeks of availability. For more information of how to swim with wild Orcas in Norway visit our photo tour page here.

Typically, we find a location and we are on standby ready to go when the Orcas or Humpbacks are coming our way. The Orcas do all of the hard work gathering and creating bait balls of herring, then they hunt and shortly after the playful humpbacks come to take advantage of the Orcas hard work. This is when bubble net feeding occurs, which is the process of Humpbacks swimming straight up with their mouths open to the surface.

Here is a photo of Jenni and I using our incredible underwater housing systems made by Aquatica and Canon Canada equipment.

Jenni on the move swimming slowly as she searches for Orca and Humpback pods

Chase Teron loving the Arctic waters of Norway

It's essential to have the proper gear if you are looking to expand your photography portfolio but if you are looking for an experience to bring you closer to nature and to wildlife then a GoPro or just your eyes is all you may need.

Please comment below if you are interested in our photography tour and share this article to someone you may know who enjoy underwater experiences like this. 

-Chase and Jenni

PS. Watch the video recap here and share the below info graphics on Pinterest!

Swimming towards the dorsal!

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