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Northern Norway in November

“Can I be any more shrill?” she asked, her voice grating on the upper registers available to her. She must have been asking our neighbors in Finland, judging by the volume used in asking the rhetorical question. Just a few minutes before, she had made the self-aware statement, “I know I must be ruining this for everybody else” as she screamed with each auroral display. This had done nothing to change her behavior or volume. I, however, moved from bow to stern hoping for some dampening of the volume.

Denver. Frankfurt. Oslo. Tromso. It took almost as long to get to Tromso as it did to get to Nairobi -- just 1 or 2 hours less. The next week passed as if in a dream or fugue state, similar to that strange existence when in an airplane for a very long time. Low ambient light, food served at what felt like strange hours and lots of sleeping or attempts at sleeping, just drifting along. I was on a live aboard (the MV Togo --- all of you who want details on the ship can see her website at https://mvtogo.com) to snorkel with an photograph orcas. Sleeping in the darkness of the bottom of the boat, I needed to set my alarm in order to get to breakfast around 7:15am. We then motored up to where orcas were spotted, usually @ 1 1/2 hours, suiting up in dry suits and heated vests (average ocean temperatures for that area in November range from 43-47 degrees F) & rode out on zodiacs to get close to the orca pods. When the zodiac drivers thought the timing was right, he’d say, “In the water!” and we’d drop in (sometimes on top of each other) and swim hard & fast obliquely toward the orcas, hoping to get there before they dove deep or changed direction. The zodiac would come and pick us up. Repeat, repeat, repeat until the sun got low (around 2pm at the start, closer to 1pm by the end) or the swells got too high to see over.

We started with about 5 hours of light a day, decreasing by 10 minutes each day. Lunch was at 3:30 for the first half of the trip, but as the days grew shorter, it was pushed up to 2:30. It was dark by 2:20 and lunch time felt more like dinner time. After lunch there were presentations on orcas or photo processing. Dinner was at 8:30 in the beginning, creeping to 7:30 by the end. Then it was time to sleep and do it all over again.

There were a couple of very windy days, but the captain found us sheltered bays with orcas. On our last drop of our last day, the sun made itself known by painting the sky and clouds tangerine. The whales were content and didn’t swim away as we approached. We were swimming in whale soup! Being in the midst of orcas swimming & diving every which way was incredibly exhilarating and a fantastic way to end the trip.

“We couldn’t have photographed in these conditions with the technology of camera 5 years ago,” said the trip leader enthusiastically. “My camera is 9 years old” was my reply. The water was black from particulate and lack of any direct sun, and the orcas were mostly black. My 9- year-old camera was pushed to its limits. I could barely see the white patches that I came to think of as angel wings as the orcas passed by me: one time it was so close that I had to pull up short & the orca researcher on our trip remarked when I got back on the zodiac that I almost got run over by an orca. 

Here is a map of where we were. The towns circled in red are where or close to where we docked/anchored. Everyone flew in and out of Tromso.

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The amazing sky on our last drop

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