The Feast: Orca Humpback Whale Feeding Behavior Aerial Norway

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Mid november in northern norway, some miles north of the polar circle. The sun tries hard to make it over the rim of the snow capped mountains, when we leave the sheltered bay to go out to the open part of the fjord in our small aluminum fishing boat.

We are not here to fish for cod, which is plenty in these waters, but for another spectacle. Big shoals of herring are coming to these fjords from november until january, following on their tails are orcas and humpback whales.

After about an hour we spot the first blows and speed up to get there. Orca fins show in the waves, but it is only when I start the drone and fly up, that I can see how big the pod really is. The sun managed to rise over the mountains in the meantime and hits the orca blows with a golden rim light. On my monitor I can see into the water and count even more of the animals diving underneath. Blows and fins everywhere. The skippers guess is a pod of a couple of hundred Orcas, and for sure it is the biggest pod of this elegant hunters I´ve ever seen. They are moving fast and I am going almost full speed on the drone to keep up with them. We hoped they might bring us to the herring, but they are heading out to the open ocean, so we let them go, after a couple of great shots though.

We get a call from another unit, who spotted orcas and humpbacks in a shallow bay. We rush to get there, because this is the situation, we were waiting for since last year, where I was able to film some aerial sequences, which were used in the Blue Planet 2 opening show.

Some juvenile humpback whales and a pod of about 10-20 orcas pushed a shoal of herring into the bay and now they patrol on the exits so they cannot escape.

In other parts of the world the humpbacks keep away from the orcas, because they are known to be prey for the killer whales, especially their newborn babies. But here they seem to not fear each other, because the juvenile humpbacks are big enough now and there´s enough food for everyone. No need for competition and in fact it looks, as if they are actually working together to get to use their individual hunting techniques.

Together they push the herring close to the beach, where the orcas are performing their “killer loops” or „carousel feeding“ in which they swim fast into the shoal of herring, turn around their own axis and beat the fish with their tail.
The paralyzed fish then float in the water and are easy to pick up by the killer whales or birds, who want their share of the feast.

On the other side the humpback whales dive fast under the herring, ascend with open mouth and take a huge gulp. The juvenile whales are still small enough to dive in these shallow waters and they work single or in small groups.

It is so impressive to be that close to these beautiful animals, but again it only really shows from the aerial perspective, where you can actually see, what is going on, how they hunt and interact. Plus we have a unit underwater, to film the corresponding angle.

We shot continously for almost 2 hours with 2 drone systems until the last battery is down, the last sun light is gone and we can hardly move our frozen fingers anymore.

What a great day!

Cinematography by Carl Finkbeiner