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Orca Memories 2014

All my bags weren’t fully unpacked, and my laundry had not yet fully dried, but there I was packing again for my next adventure. I was rushing, and I was excited. I love Norway, and I love being with orcas. I’ve been there many times before, but this time was different because I had not been there since 2006, and I was longing to return to the majestic landscape, the orcas, and the northern lights.

For decades, this trip had been a regular, yearly journey for me. This came to a halt roughly eight years ago, when the orcas in Norway abandoned the fjords. The herring had moved into the open North Sea, and the orcas went with them.

Although it is not clear yet what brought the herring back to the fjords, they have returned. Of course, the orcas came with them, and BigAnimals expeditions was there to see it happen.

Orca chasing Herring

Orca chasing Herring

It is important to mention something here – I have been asked many times, “Is it safe to swim or free dive with orcas?” Yes, it is absolutely safe. BigAnimals expeditions has lead orca trips from 1992 through 2006. From professional productions like NatGeo TV, to private individuals seeking adventure, we’ve safely introduced over 180 divers to this adventure.

Eight guests joined me this season, four from Russia, one from Hong Kong and three from the USA. Our timing was perfect and our guests were treated to the northern lights, plenty of herring, orcas, and surprisingly, humpback whales.

A big thank you to Pierre, Olav, Tony, Barbara, Joaquin, Peter, Olga, Vladi and Sveltan who made this experience so wonderful. There only thing more exciting and inspiring than being in the wilderness and the water is sharing the experience with our guests and crew.

Orca Expedition Team

Orca Expedition Team

This year’s expedition was among the best I’ve had in my 40 years of underwater exploration and photography, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share the images from a few epic moments with you.


Young Company

Young Company

 Lunch For Three

The first amazing moment happened while we were swimming and adjusting to the arrival of a new orca pod. While we were drifting we came close to another small pod. I looked underwater to check them out, and what I saw was just out of this world.

Three generations of orcas were sharing and feeding on a single bird.

I’ve never seen this type of sharing before, and I was spellbound.

Luckily, the camera can do the talking for me, because words wouldn’t do the event justice.

Orca feeding & sharing

Orca feeding & sharing

The Day of the Whales

One day the herring were overflowing from the four fishing vessels around us, and we were surrounded for five hours by over 200 orcas and dozens of humpback whales. We were treated to a glorious feeding spectacle.

For 22 years, I have been wooing the orcas in Norway. I have had many remarkable and close encounters with them, but I’d never had one before like the one I had today. I was kissed by an orca for the first time.

Orca & jelly fish

Orca & jelly fish

Extreme Closeup

It was the end of a clear sky day with limited light as the sun rose no more than 10 degrees over the horizon; we had only four hours of daylight and it was cold.

It was getting dark on the surface, and even more so in the water. I was shooting with a 17 – 35mm lens wide open, and I had to raise the ISO to 3200 just to get an image of what my eyes could see.

I was just about to ask the skipper to head back home when I saw a family of eight orcas moving just behind our idle vessel. I slid into the water and saw nothing at first. Visibility was less than 20 feet and everything was dark green. All of a sudden, a white mark appeared at the edge my vision. I aimed the camera while focusing on the white spot, which quickly got bigger, and bigger, and BIGGER, until if filled up my entire frame.

I stood my place and kept shooting until it was only a meter away. The male orca stopped in front of my lens as if to pose for his picture and then gently turned to my left. This is the un-cropped image:

Orca kiss

Orca kiss

The Grand Finale

Mother Nature showed us her best hand in the last hour of light on the very last day. We witnessed carouseling – the unique cooperative feeding by a by a pod of about 15 orcas, mostly males, and four young calves who were about three to four weeks old. They were joined by humpback whales, who were eager to get in on the action.

While I was filming the orcas feeding, they suddenly all moved away from me and the herring bait ball that was nearby. Soon after, a dark form appeared. Much bigger than an orca. It was like a submarine was moving toward me; it was a humpback whale.

As it approached, I paddled backwards, but not fast enough. The humpback whale outstretched its pectoral fin and gently pushed me away, so it could swim through the bait ball without me in the way.

Even though I saw the humpback coming, I was startled when it let out a big exhalation. I was rocked by its powerful booming sound and fishy smell. I was only ten feet away from its nostrils, it was sooooo loud, and soooo very close to me, but very invigorating. Thank you humpback.

All this was very exciting, but very little photography happened. After days of clear sky, it was dark and cloudy. What little sun there was over the horizon did not get through this last day.

I had to push the ISO to 4000 and open the aperture to 2.8 to just barely get the 1/125 shutter speed I needed to freeze the action.

It was tough shooting, but it was a glorious 30 minutes and a wonderful way to end ten days of orca image hunting, and now I am ever more inspired to return next season…

Orca feeding

Orca feeding

Goodbye Orcas

It was time to leave Norway and head back home. I said goodbye to the orcas, and they replied in kind – twice. All ten members of the pod raised their heads together and Spy Hoped…only two meters from the boat.

I was beside myself, helplessly seated on the side of the vessel with the housing ready to go. Sadly, I missed those shots – twice.

I was not going to miss the goodbye a third time, and when a member of the pod showed up again to say goodbye, I was ready for him.


Spy Hoping

Night Life

Although the orcas and my guests were the Super stars of the expedition, I almost forgot to mention what goes on at night in Norway. The northern lights are more beautiful than any fireworks I’ve ever seen, the display goes on for hours, and is a sight that’s as awe-inspiring as it is mesmerizing.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

I can’t wait to go back next year.

Amos Nachoum, Expedition Leader

Amos Nachoum, Expedition Leader. Portrait by Tony Meyer.

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