Skjervoy is a small island in the northern reaches of Norway, deep in the heart of the Arctic Circle. The island is home to a small fishing village surrounded by sweeping alpine mountains, glistening fjords, and spectacular Northern Lights displays. Each year between November and January, Skjervoy hosts one of nature’s greatest spectacles, as millions of herring arrive to wait out the winter in the sheltered waters. This influx of food attracts huge numbers of orcas as well as humpback whales and white-tailed eagles. Skjervoy is one of the few places in the world where you have the chance to get in the water and swim with orcas as they feast on the great shoals of herring. An unforgettable, life-changing experience.
You can get to Skjervoy on the Hurtigruten ferry which runs a three-hour cruise from Tromso to the island. The boat ride itself is worth the trip, winding its way through the spectacular fjords as the Northern Lights dance above. Bus tours can also be arranged from Tromso which take you to Skjervoy and back. One thing to note is that the herring and orcas used to congregate in Andenes, and only recently moved to Skjervoy. With the changing climate’s unpredictable impacts on the world’s oceans, it is not clear how long this spectacle will last. WildSide recommends getting out there as soon as possible and checking with tour operators such as Sea Safari Andenes or WildSeas what the orcas are up to before booking a trip.
Average spend per person: a 2-3 hour boat trip to snorkel with orcas is around $200 per person
Number of reports: 4
Best time to visit: the whale watching season runs from November to January
Typical activities: bird watching, boat trip, snorkelling, whale watching
WILDLIFE IN Skjervoy
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here include:
Humpback Whale – 100% of visitors (4/4) reported sightings
The abundance of food in the fjords during winter attracts humpbacks to the feast. While there are fewer humpbacks than orcas, they are still a regular sighting on whale watching trips in Skjervoy. Seeing one of these giants leaping out of the water next to your small, inflatable boat really puts things into perspective! Interestingly, this is one of the few places on Earth where humpbacks and orcas actually work together. Elsewhere orcas are known to prey on humpbacks, but the abundance of food around Skjervoy means they don’t have to. Researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute have found that the orcas allow the humpbacks to join in and feed on the fish balls they group together over 90% of the time.
orca – 100% OF VISITORS (4/4) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The main draw in Skjervoy is to get up close and personal with one of the world’s largest and most intelligent predators: the killer whale. During the season, close encounters with orcas are pretty much guaranteed, with WildSeas claiming that “we have not had one day without whales since late October”. The richness of the feeding grounds means it is not uncommon to see between 10 and 100 orcas a day.
You can see the orcas on dedicated whale watching boats which provide close-up views of these incredible creatures. However, if you really want to see them in their element you have to get in the water! Sea Safari Andenes runs snorkelling trips from Skjervoy which allow you to dive in the freezing Arctic waters and swim among these giants. It’s a small organisation and getting ready can be a chaotic experience. But watching an orca swim underneath you and slowly turning its head to check you out is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Some tips, make sure you wear at least three layers of non-baggy clothes. Take a pair of gloves to keep your hands warm under your drysuit. Don’t worry if the suit doesn’t fit perfectly. Allow yourself an extra day or two in case you can’t go out due to bad weather. And get yourself a GoPro!
White-tailed eagle – 50% of visitors (2/4) reported sightings
The white-tailed eagle population was in decline in Norway until the 1970s when legislation was introduced to protect them. From a low of around 350 pairs in 1960, there are now up to 4,000. This is the largest population in Europe and one of the largest in the world. The sight of these huge birds circling above the fjords or swooping over the water is fairly common. In Skjervoy look out for them by the harbour or when out on the sea whale watching. You can also spot them on the Hurtigruten ferry on your way there!