“It is the fish, and that alone, that draws people to Andenes – the place itself has no other temptations,” said the writer Poul Alm when he visited the old fishing port of ANDENES in 1944. While this is too harsh a judgement today, the main emphasis does indeed remain firmly nautical, with lines of low-slung buildings leading up to a clutter of wooden warehouses and mini boat-repair yards that demarcate the harbour and its prominent breakwaters. Even Andenes’ long and straight main drag, Storgata, ends abruptly at the seafront, and the town’s main raison d’être today is as a field station and research centre for marine biologists studying whales: indeed, among Scandinavians, Andenes is best known for its whale-watching safaris. The town is also an excellent place for gull watching – large numbers of glaucous and Iceland gulls, white-billed divers and purple sandpipers frequent its environs – as well as being Norway’s most southerly wintering area for common and king eider ducks. In late winter, the world’s Arctic cod population migrates south from the Barents Sea to spawn in the waters around Andenes – a natural movement that attracts millions of sea birds to the area on the lookout for food.
Andenes is famous for its popular whale-watching safaris, with a marine biologist on board to point out whales, such as pilots, minkes, humpbacks and sperm, as well other sea creatures like dolphins and porpoise. Operators claim – with every justification – a ninety-five percent chance of a whale sighting, and many will reimburse the price of your ticket if you don’t see any. The Vesterålen islands are a stone’s throw from the continental shelf, which is closer to land here than anywhere else in Norway: deep water and a nutrient-rich food supply such as squid make the area an essential feeding ground for sperm whales, though as they can dive down as deep as 3000m to feed, you’re unlikely to glimpse the same whale twice on a single trip.
The tours, which support the research and protection of offshore whale colonies, take place aboard small vessels and use hydrophone technology to pick up the sounds of the whales – essential for locating the mammals without disturbing them. Taking an evening safari during the midnight-sun period can be especially rewarding, as the calmer sea makes it easier to spot the surfacing sperm whales, and the light is simply enchanting.
Whaling in Norway
Whaling in Norway
To many foreigners at least, Norway has an unenviable reputation as one of the few countries in the world still hunting whales for commercial purposes. In so doing, the Norwegians ignore the worldwide ban on commercial whaling adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. While Japan claims to kill whales for scientific reasons, Norway does not disguise its main reason for hunting – human consumption – and its fisheries department works out its own quota. In 2012, this was 1286 minke whales – the largest catch in a quarter of a century. Whale meat (hval) is considered a delicacy by many Norwegians and can still be found on many (north) Norwegian menus, though opinion polls indicate that about one in four Norwegians under thirty oppose the hunt. The method of killing the animals is also subject to bitter debate. Norwegian whalers invented the exploding harpoon and they still use it today. Activists claim there’s no humane way to kill a whale, but many abhor this particular method: one in five harpooned whales suffer a long and painful death. Ironically enough, the waters where thousands of tourists venture out on whale-watching safaris are the same as those used by the whale hunters. Indeed, in 2006 a whale was shot and dragged aboard a whaler right in front of a whaling safari boat, causing a real brouhaha.