After touring Brazil and Colombia last October, my next expedition for wildlife photography was to Norway from 10th to 18th November 2017. The specific area was the water surrounding Tromso, a city in northern Norway above the Arctic Circle. This visit was focused on mammals in the Arctic Ocean and viewing the Northern Lights. My main interest was the Humpback Whale and the Orca. In the winter months they come to feed on the herrings who are close to the coast of Tromso during winter.
Tromso is known as the “Gateway to the Arctic” because it enjoys more Northern Lights than anywhere else on Planet Earth. Paris, the city of lights, is the world’s most visited capital while Tromso, the city of the Northern Lights is the world’s most visited site to behold this natural phenomenon. Hence Tromso is also known as the “Paris in the Arctic”.
As planned, I landed in Tromso on the 11th of November together with Maxi from Argentina, who joined me from Oslo. Our tour organizer was Frank from Germany. Frank is also a wildlife photographer who I had first met in Punta Norte in Argentina in 2016. He arranged a pick up from the airport and after an hour’s drive we arrived at our destination Kyaloyvagen, north of Tromso. We checked in to an apartment with a water front, where the powered boats used for our expedition in the following days were docked. Our friend Hector, a ranger from Punta Norte, Argentina who had been with Frank for a week in Tromso before our arrival, greeted us. But the news we got from him was not that encouraging. They hadn’t sighted either the Orcas or Humpbacks during last two weeks in the Kvaloyvagen fjords. However, that same evening we had a great sighting of the colorful Northern Lights, the first time in my life that I saw this stunning spectacle and I was able to photograph the lights with the moon in the background.
The following morning, by 8am we were on the boat cruising around the waters of the Kvaloyvagen and surrounding areas in search of the apex predator of the ocean, the Orca. The boat could carry up to four passengers comfortably. After a few hours, we were fortunate to see and later photograph a few killer whales. According to Hector who was in the boat with us, it was first time these mammals had been sighted for this season. We returned to base by 2pm for lunch before dark. The next morning, on the 13th of November, we went in search of Orca and Humpbacks again, but we had no luck that day. Frank came to know that large numbers of Orcas and Humpbacks have been sighted in Skjervoy located further north of Tromso, about three hours by boat. Frank suggested that we spend two nights in Skjervoy.
On the 14th November morning, we were on the boat by 8am and within three hours we reached the waters of Skjervoy. To our delight, Orcas and Humpbacks were seen all over the area busily feeding on herrings. The light was not good for photography due to heavy clouds. At around 2pm we docked our boat in Skjervoy near the Hotel Maritim, where we stayed the nights of 14th and 15th November. On the 15th we spent most of the day from sunrise to sunset (which is approximately 6 hours on these short winter days) on the boat watching the activities of these magnificent mammals of the arctic, including few views of the breaching of the Humpbacks.
It was on the 16th that I was able to take some truly spectacular photographs of these large marine mammals, that I would add to my coffee table book “Odyssey into the Wild – 2” to be published in 2019. The lighting was good and it was thrilling to watch and photograph the frolics of these large predators. We had sightings of Humpbacks engaging in bubble net feeding on herrings and fish. Bubble net feeding is a unique feeding technique of Humpback Whales where a group of whales would swim in a shrinking circle, blowing bubbles when there is a school of fish in the water below. The bubbles force the fish to come up and the whales would take in thousands of small fish in mouthfuls. Most of the still photographs were taken during the golden light before sunset. I was also able take some video clips of the movement of Orcas from air, using the drone.
Next two days were spent in Kvaloyvagen to capture more images of the Northern Lights before returning to Sri Lanka on the 19th November.