Murmansk Oblast

Hunting a whale with a camera in the Barents Sea

Sea tours for the brave and hardy

13.02.2023// There is a unique tourism industry in the Murmansk Region, based on the seasonal migration of whales. In spring, sea giants approach the Kola Peninsula close, allowing a view of themselves from a small boat. Equipped with their cameras, dozens of tourists set off to explore the waters of the Barents Sea. Standing on the bobbing deck of a boat in a cloud of splash and sea foam you can quite easily feel like a Jack London hero... who actually loves whales.

The whale-watching season starts in April and lasts until early June. Marine mammals follow shoals of fish, coming close to the coast of the Kola Peninsula.

Usually, the starting point of the tours is the Teriberka settlement, from where the group sets off on a motorboat or boat. Most companies offer a shuttle service from Murmansk, but you can also get there in your own car—130 km along a comfortable and modern route is not unlike any similar journey along our country's roads. Before visiting Teriberka, it is compulsory to obtain a border zone permit from the Murmansk branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

While waiting to go to sea, you can visit the sights in and around Teriberka. One of them is the filming location of the Leviathan directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, the famous ship graveyard, the Batareisky waterfall and the 'dinosaur egg' beach.

You will need to prepare in advance to go to sea. The first, and most important, is clothing. Non-blowing jackets, thermal underwear, thick hats and scarves should protect against the strong and cold winds of the Barents Sea. It is a good idea to bring sunglasses in case of sunny weather. Some tour operators consult with their clients in advance on the selection of equipment, based on their impressive experience in warming up frozen guests. It is also important to remember that the weather can change plans. A whale-watching tour usually lasts 2–3 days, as it is not possible to know when exactly you will be able to depart in advance. Tour operators often specify the amount of compensation in the event of inability to go to sea.

In spring, humpback whales and northern minke whales can be seen in the coastal waters of the Kola Peninsula. The first has a body length of up to 15 metres and weighs up to 30 tons. The colour of the back and sides is black or dark grey, sometimes with a brown tinge. The colour of the chest and belly varies from black or mottled (with white spots) to completely white. The humpback whale can swim underwater for up to 30 minutes and its fountain is up to 3 metres high. Near the Kola Peninsula, an eastern herd of whales migrates from the Arctic Circle to the Cape Verde Islands and West Africa. They feed on krill and fish, using methods of drive hunting. It is a rare privilege to capture the huge humpback whale rising from the water with its mouth open, swallowing its prey with the water.

The northern minke whale is smaller (and lighter at 10 tons) than its counterpart but also beautiful and a great subject for photo-hunting. Sperm whales, killer whales and blue whales very rarely enter these waters. Meeting them is fortuitous, but that makes it all the more valuable. It is important to note that no honest tour operator will promise that a tourist will certainly encounter a whale.

On a boat trip, tourists are often encouraged to fish, competing a little with the whales. Guests will most often catch cod, which the recreation centre will be happy to cook for them. Local cuisine offers guests a wide range of seafood delicacies, including sea urchins and even Kamchatka crabs. The latter have become an integral part of the local ecosystem, dispersing and breeding in coastal waters from Arkhangelsk to Norway. Fishing for Kamchatka crab in the Barents Sea has been permitted since 2021, with locals organising fishing trips for visitors to catch the valuable crustacean. Previously, illegal fishing was an important part of the income of the fishing industry in the Murmansk Region.

In addition to whales, dolphins, seals and a variety of birds can be seen in the waters of the Barents Sea. These include gulls, solans, albatrosses, skuas, terns, loons and other winged creatures. Birdwatching on the coast of the Kola Peninsula will succeed in spring anyway.

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