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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 the spring spawning herring that 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 2017-19  herring seasons.  

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 (motorised boat, swim-with, aerial)

Peak time of year to observe

Sperm whale (Physeter microcephalus)

Nordland/Vesterålen

Andenes, Stø

Motorised boat

Year around

Killer whale (Orcinus Orca)

Nordland,  Troms, Finnmark

Andenes, Stø, Skjervøy, Tromsø, elsewhere

Motorised boat

Boat based: Andenes: Year around

Nov-Jan: Northern Norway

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

Pilot whale (Globicephala melas)

Nordland/Vesterålen

Andenes, Stø

Motorised  boat

Andenes: Year around (infrequent)

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Nordland/Vesterålen,Troms, Finnmark, Svalbard

 

Andenes, Stø, Skjervøy, Tromsø, elsewhere

Longyearbyen

 

Motorised boat

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)

Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

Nordland/Vesterålen

Andenes, Stø

Motorised boat

Stø: Summer

Andenes: Year around  (infrequent)

White-beaked dolphins  (Lagenorhynchus albirostris)

Nordland/Vesterålen, Svalbard

Andenes, Stø, Longyearbyen

Motorised boat

Summer

(infrequent)

Harbor porpoise

(Phocoena phocoena)

 

Nordland/Vesterålen

Andenes, Stø

Motorised boat

Andenes: Year around 

Stø: Summer

Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

 Svalbard

 Longyearbyen

 

Motorised boat

Summer

(might be observed)

 

 Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Svalbard

Longyearbyen

Motorised boat

Summer

(might be observed)

 

 

Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

Svalbard

Longyearbyen

Motorised boat

Summer

(might be observed) (expeditions)

 

Narwhal

(Monodon monoceros)

Svalbard

Longyearbyen

Motorised boat

Summer

(might be observed)

(expeditions)

 

Bowhead

(Balaena mysticetus)

 

Svalbard

Longyearbyen

Motorised boat

Summer

(might be observed)

(expeditions)

 

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Regulations and guidelines

Three sets of whale watching guidelines have been developed since 2009 in northern Norway.  In chronological order, these are:

  • Whale watching guidelines by Ocean Sounds, a non-profit organisation dedicated to marine mammals science and conservation. These include posters in both English and Norwegian. These can be found here
  • Whale watching guidelines by Visit Tromsø, the destination management organisation of the Tromsø area. These also include posters in both English and Norwegian, and can be viewed here.  
  • Whale watching guidelines by NorWhale, a network of whale watching operators and destination companies after initiative from the consortium Arctic-365. These guidelines include species specific posters and leaflets in both English and Norwegian, available here

After several episodes of irresponsible behaviour by whale watchers, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries   introduced strict whale watching regulations in 2019.  These are intended to protect whales in their natural habitat as well as promote co-existence of whale watching and fisheries.  These are available in Norwegian here with an abbreviated official English translation here.

Please note that all guidelines ban/strongly discourage disturbing, trying to attract, provisioning or touching the animals. Ocean Sounds and Visit Tromsø guidelines ban/strongly discourage all in-water activities with cetaceans. NorWhale guidelines regulate snorkelling with orcas in winter, while snorkelling with other whale species and at other times of the year is not recommended. NorWhale discourages all other activities in the water (free diving, diving and swimming). 

In general:

  • 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 larger 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. 


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Research on whale watching in Norway

Whale watching activities outside Andenes, Vesterålen, Lofoten and Troms have facilitated many research activities relevant to tourism. The results of such activities are published in various scientific journals, including Tourism in Marine Environments, Journal of Ecotourism, Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, and books (see references below).

The non-profit organisation Ocean Sounds in Nordland (Lofoten) has been  active since 2005 in conducting research and disseminating scientific results about whales and whale-human interactions in a variety of media and fora, including journals,conferences, reports, school projects, newspapers, radio and TV (see this site for more information).

UiT The Arctic University of Norway has conducted several studies in collaboration with other research institutes. These includes the WhaleTrack project concerning the whale migration.

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References

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  1. Bertella, G. (2019). Close Encounters with Wild Cetaceans: Good Practices and Online Discussions of Critical Episodes. Tourism in Marine Environments, 14: 4, 265-273. DOI: 10.3727/154427319X15719407307721.
  2. Bertella, G. (2019). Participatory action research and collaboration in CSR initiatives by DMOs. Journal of Ecotourism, 18:2, 165-173. DOI: 10.1080/14724049.2018.1482904. Bertella, G. and Acquarone, M. (2018). Reply to ‘Swim encounters with Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) off Northern Norway: interactive behaviours directed towards Human Divers and Snorkelers obtained from opportunistic underwater video recordings'. Journal of Ecotourism, 17:2, 184-191. DOI: 10.1080/14724049.2017.1368272. 
  3. Bertella, G. (2017). Well-being in wildlife experiences: feeling good for the animals? In N. Prebensen and J. Chen (eds) Nature-based Tourism. Routledge. 
  4. Bertella, G. (2017). Factors of peripherality: whale watching in Northern Norway. In Y.-S. Lee, D. Weaver and N. Prebensen (eds) Arctic Tourism Experiences Production, Consumption and Sustainability. CABI. 
  5. Bertella, G. and Vester, H. I. (2015). Whale watching in Norway caught between more traditional hunting canons and the lucrative promise of seismic airguns. Tourism in Marine Environments, 11:1, 73-77. DOI: 10.3727/154427315X14398263718510. 
  6. Bertella, G. (2011). Wildlife Toruism and Natural Sciences knowledge: Challenges and Critical Factors. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 11:1, 97-114. DOI: 10.1080/15022250.2011.540794.
  7. 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).
  8. Kramvig, B., Kristoffersen, B. and Førde, A. (2016). Responsible Cohabitation in Arctic Waters. The Promise of a Spectacle Touristic Whale. In S. Abram and K. Lund (eds) Green Ice. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  9. 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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