Over the past couple of years, winter whale watching trips have become a great favourite with visitors to Tromsø. The whales returned to the region quite unexpectedly, following a change herring migration patterns and now those enjoying city breaks to Tromsø are often lucky enough to experience these creatures first hand.
Naturally, Tromsø is not the only place to experience whales in Norway and winter is not the only time to see them. Vesteralen is great spot for seeing Humpback and Killer Whales in winter, whilst our Ultimate Whale Watching break in Andenes offers excursions to see giant Sperm Whales from May to October.
To get an insight into the current picture regarding whale spotting around Tromsø, we spoke to Dr Tore Haug, Head of the Research Group on Marine Mammals in Norway's Institute of Marine Research. The Institute advises the Norwegian authorities on aquaculture and the ecosystems of the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the North Sea and the Norwegian coastal zone and is the country’s largest centre of marine science.
Q. When do the whales arrive and how long, on average, do they stay in the Tromsø-region?
A. In 2012 they came in mid-November and stayed until early February. They came at the same time the year before, but then they travelled to Vesterålen and the near shore coastal areas further south.
Q. Do the same type of whales visit the area in summer and winter?
A. Humpback whales dominate in winter with some Killer Whales. In summer, the Humpback whales move further away from the shore and we see more Sperm Whales.
Q. Why do the whales come to the Tromsø region and why did they appear so suddenly?
A. Humpback Whales and Killer Whales visit the Tromsø region to feed on herring. The Humpbacks appeared so suddenly in the region as herring became very abundant near to the shore.
Q. Has this happened before in the Tromsø region?
A. It is not very well documented, but the naming of “Kvaløya” (translated as Whale Island) which is situated in the municipality of Tromsø, could indicate this. From 1864 to 1904 humpbacks were often seen, in winter, in inshore waters, but that was primarily in western Finnmark.
Q. Are there anything guests should be aware of when encountering whales close-up?
A. Whales are usually not dangerous but they are very big, so don’t get to close. The tail can easily crush a small boat.
Q. Is it difficult to spot whales during the dark winter days?
A. No, but you need to be there at mid-day.
Q. Can you hear or smell the whales?
A. You can hear their blows and splashes. Humpbacks sing a lot, but you need to be under water to enjoy that. Their blow does smell, particularly when they have been eating herring!
For more information, see our fabulous whale watching itineraries.