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Norway

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Extent of whale and dolphin watching

With its stunning fjords and its gateway to the Arctic, Norway offers unique whale watching opportunities for visitors year round, with opportunities to see sperm whales, killer whales and humpback whales as well as other species.

Target species, peak times of year and locations

Sperm whales can be observed throughout the whole year in the “Bleik-canyon” outside Andenes, where it is also possible to observe humpback whales, minke whales, killer whales, pilot whales, white-beaked dolphins and harbor porpoises year around.  However, the peak tourist season is the summer. In the Norwegian spring, other locations along the northern Norwegian coast can also host large numbers of humpback and killer whales, and sometimes fin whales as they follow spawning herring that are believed to overwinter in Norway’s fjords from November to January. The fjords outside Tromsø became a whale and dolphin hot spot during the herring seasons in 2012-2013 to 2016-2017, while the fjords around Skjervøy (further north) were visited by a large number of killer and humpback whales during the 2017-18  herring season.  

Between May and September, blue whales, fin whales, humpback whales, minke whales, and belugas can be observed around Svalbard with day trips originating from the port of Longyearbyen. Additionally, high arctic species such as narwhals, belugas and bowhead whales might be observed on longer expeditions from Longyearbyen (lasting 7-10 days). 

Additional information about whale watching in Norway can be found on the following websites:

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Species

County/region

Towns or harbours

Platform (motorized boat, swim-with, aerial)

Peak time of year to observe

Sperm whale (Physeter microcephalus)

Nordland/Vesterålen

Andenes, Stø

Motorized boat

Year around

Killer whale (Orcinus Orca)

Nordland,  Troms, Finnmark

Andenes, Stø, Skjervøy, Tromsø, elsewhere

Motorized boat,

Swim-with

Boat based: Andenes: Year around

Nov-Jan: Northern Norway

(Skjervøy, Tromsø or elsewhere - depending on if/where the herring will be overwintering in fjords)

Swim-with: Andenes (Jan-Feb), Herring site: Oct-Feb

Pilot whale (Globicephala melas)

Nordland/Vesterålen

Andenes, Stø

Motorized  boat

Andenes: Year around (infrequent)

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Nordland/Vesterålen,Troms, Finnmark, Svalbard

 

Andenes, Stø, Skjervøy, Tromsø, elsewhere

Longyearbyen

 

Motorized boat

Swim-with

Boat based:

Stø: Summer

Andenes: Year around

Nov-Jan: Northern Norway

(Skjervøy, Tromsø or elsewhere - depending on if/where the herring will be overwintering in fjords)

Swim with:

Herring site: Oct-Feb

Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

Nordland/Vesterålen

Andenes, Stø

Motorized boat

Stø: Summer

Andenes: Year around  (infrequent)

White-beaked dolphins  (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)

Nordland/Vesterålen, Svalbard

Andenes, Stø, Longyearbyen

Motorized boat

Summer

(infrequent)

Harbor porpoise

(Phocoena phocoena)

 

Nordland/Vesterålen

Andenes, Stø

Motorized boat

Andenes: Year around 

Stø: Summer

Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

 Svalbard

 Longyearbyen

 

Motorized boat

Summer

(might be observed)

 

 Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Svalbard

Longyearbyen

Motorized boat

Summer

(might be observed)

 

 

Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

Svalbard

Longyearbyen

Motorized boat

Summer

(might be observed) (expeditions)

 

Narwhal

(Monodon monoceros)

Svalbard

Longyearbyen

Motorized boat

Summer

(might be observed)

(expeditions)

 

Bowhead

(Balaena mysticetus)

 

Svalbard

Longyearbyen

Motorized boat

Summer

(might be observed)

(expeditions)

 

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Regulations and guidelines

Currently there are no legally enforced national guidelines in place for whale watching in Norway, although the authorities are considering putting some in place. In the meantime, many tour operators have taken it upon themselves to form an industry standard that they are encouraging all commercial and private whale watchers to follow. These are presented in two slightly adapted formats on the Norwhale website,(a website developed by a number of whale watching operators and destination companies after initiative from the consortium Arctic-365) and the  Visit Tromsø website, and include the measures below:

  • -Commercial whale watching operators are encouraged to include educational programs in their tours, highlighting the fragility of the marine environment and inspiring respect and environmental friendly attitudes and behaviours.
  • -Operators are encouraged to use boats to capacity, as well as the larger of their boats when possible to reduce the overall number of boats observing whales.
  • -A maximum of 3 boats are advised to simultaneously observe each situation, for the sake of whales and also to enhance the “wilderness experience”.
  • -Boats are encouraged to cooperate so that if there are too many boats with one (group of) whale(s), the maximum boat time per encounter is 30 minutes. Boats waiting for their turn should remain more than 500m away from whales where possible, or at an appropriately remote distance from the situation depending on the local topography. 
  • -Approach whales slowly, at less than 5 knots when within 300m, and at constant speed, from the side and slightly to the rear.
  • -Move parallel to the direction of moving whales, not directly from behind where whales may feel chased, neither head-on, nor intercepting the path. Approach whales slowly, at less than 5 knots when within 300m, and at constant speed, from the side and slightly to the rear.
  • -Move parallel to the direction of moving whales, not directly from behind where whales may feel chased, neither head-on, nor intercepting the path. 

Note that operators in Tromsø discourage in-water encounters with whales of any species, while this is still permitted in some locations in Norway.

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Research on whale watching in Norway

The whale watching activities on sperm whales outside Andenes have facilitated many research activities, including a study that determined that solitary sperm whales spent more time at the surface in the presence of whale watching vessels than when vessels were not present1.  Whale watching in Norway includes a limited number of opportunities for in-water encounters with killer whales and humpback whales. This industry has naturally raised questions of safety for both the humans and the killer whales.  A study that examined underwater video of killer whale interactions with human divers/underwater photographers detected no aggressive interactions2

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References

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  1. Cosentino, A. M. Effects of Whale-Watching Vessels on Adult Male Sperm Whales Off Andenes, Norway. Tourism in Marine Environments 11, 215-227, doi:10.3727/154427316X14580612748560 (2016).
  2. Pagel, C. D., Scheer, M. & Lück, M. Swim encounters with killer whales (Orcinus orca) off Northern Norway: interactive behaviours directed towards human divers and snorkellers obtained from opportunistic underwater video recordings. Journal of Ecotourism 16, 190-200, doi:10.1080/14724049.2016.1273939 (2017).

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