Killer whale watching in Norway

The Norwegian fjords just north of Tromsø are, according to ‘Skipper Extraordinaire’, Charles Wara, probably the best place on the planet to watch killer whales in the wild. Captain Wara should certainly know as he grew up in the north of Norway and has been running Aurora Borealis and whale watching tours in the Kvaløya area for over a decade.
North of Tromso, between Kvaloya and andoya, is probably the best whale watching site in the world. Where else do you have some 500 humpbacks and more than 1000 killer whales in a rather small area?
- Captain Charles wara
But what makes this dramatic fjord region, a couple of hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, such an irrepressible place for orcas? How does an area of Norway that still hunts, kills and eats whales relate to responsible tourism and what measures are in place to protect whales in their natural habitat?

Responsible Travel has explored Norway’s relationship with whales and discusses how we, as responsible travelers, are integral to changing attitudes in order to help protect these intelligent and inquisitive creatures for future generations.

What attracts killer whales to Norway?

In a mermaid’s purse: herring.
Scientists divide the behaviour of killer whales into four activities: hunting, socialising, resting and traveling. Norwegian killer whales are resident whales but move a lot within the fjord system searching for herring; in all they spend approximately 40 percent of their time traveling. Some orcas in Norway use a technique called "carousel feeding", in which the whales work together to bring a school of herring close to the surface and then circle around the herring to panic them into a tighter and tighter ball. The whales then slap their massive tail flukes through the school so that the herring are stunned or killed and picked off at leisure.
When there is a herring trawler pulling in the net it can be completely surrounded by whales; and there are actually examples of whales swimming inside the net to try to catch herring.
- Captain Charles Wara

What’s the best time of year to watch whales in Norway?

Captain Wara told us:
“Late October to the middle of January is the best time to watch humpback and killer whales between Kvaløya and Andøya, although it is also possible to see sperm whales from Andøya during the summer.”

Do whale watching tours affect whales' behaviour?

According to Captain Wara:
“I do not think the boats distress them as long as the boats are moving slowly and gentle and do not try to chase the whales (with speed boats etc). When we have been drifting we have had whales more or less everywhere but over us! I also doubt swimming with the whales changes anything - as long as the boats that carry the swimmers behave gently.”

Can you see the Northern Lights at the same time?

Captain Charles Wara:
“Since humpbacks and killer whales are in the area from October to January, you cannot miss the Aurora Borealis; unless you are in your room after 8 pm, of course.”
Julie Boissonade, in her review of her Northern Lights and whale watching vacation in Norway:
“We were sitting on a remote anchorage at night as the Aurora Borealis illuminated the sky with a bright green glow constantly changing, twisting, turning, folding and falling. At the same time as this eerie display we could hear herring flapping on the surface of the water and the noise of humpback whales blowing just metres from the boat.”

Our top trip

Whale watching and Northern Lights sailing cruise in Norway

Whale watching and Northern Lights sailing cruise in Norway

Far North. Far East. Whales and Northern lights.

From NKr 13900 5 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2024: 17 Jan
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Whale watching or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Our view on whale watching in Norway

Norway's relationship with whales has long seemed tinged with hypocrisy in as much as whales are considered part of the country's 'cultural heritage' but still killed for meat and blubber. Whale hunters are currently allowed to kill just over 1,200 minke whales each year; however, this quota is rarely met and many activists agree that Norway's whaling industry, like Iceland's, is facing its final death knells.

At Responsible Travel we believe that whales are meant to be in the wild and not to be hunted for food or for any other traditional ‘cultural’ activity. Although Norwegians are only allowed to hunt minke whales, which are plentiful and not threatened with extinction, this is still a barbaric practice that we feel has no place in the modern world.

We campaigned long and hard to Say No to Orca Circuses and we feel the more Norway understands the value of whales, including minke whales, as a vital part of a sustainable and profitable tourism industry, the better.

What can you do to help?

Traveling with serious and registered small tour companies that understand how and why whales interact with humans and the natural environment is one way that you can help convince Norway that watching whales is better than killing them. All the vacation companies on our site have been screened to ensure they conduct tours in a responsible way.

Not eating whale meat and not buying whale products also offers a chance to further harm the whaling industry and we hope it won’t be too long before we’re able to announce that whaling in Norway has finally hurled its last harpoon.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Christopher Michel] [Top box: Shriram Rajagopalan] [What attracts Orca to Norway: Yathin S Krishnappa] [Northern lights: Johannes Groll] [Northern lights: Johnny Goerend]