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Big Animal Encounters in Cold Water

From fearsome leopard seals hunting penguins in the Antarctic to friendly belugas ‘smiling’ at you in Manitoba, here are some of the big animals you might find yourself swimming with in colder waters


Best place to see them: Norway

Although found in all of the world’s oceans, orcas are most abundant in Antarctic waters. Your best chances of spotting and diving with orcas is from October to January along the northern coast of Norway, when hundreds of these whales are hot on the heels of migrating herring, as well as entering their calving season.


Best place to see them: Baffin Bay, Canada

The famed ‘unicorns of the sea’ spend the winter beneath the sea ice in the Baffin Bay-Davis Strait area, situated between Canada and western Greenland. Watch out for their distinctive ivory tusks, which can grow as long as 2.7 metres, when they surface through ice cracks to breathe.

Leopard Seals

Best place to see them: Antarctica

Characterised by their spotted fur and long, slender bodies, these solitary animals inhabit the Antarctic’s pack ice. Leopard seals have a reputation for being formidable predators – their prey includes penguins and other seals – and their behavior with humans is rather unpredictable, so approach them with care.

Salmon Sharks

Best place to see them: Alaska

Spanning up to 10 metres long, the salmon shark looks like a smaller version of its close cousin, the great white. Just as orcas follow migrating herring in Norway, salmon sharks congregate in Alaska’s Prince William Sound during the Pacific salmon run from July to September.


Best place to see them: Manitoba, Canada

Although belugas, which are closely related to narwhals, inhabit Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, thousands of them hone in on Hudson Bay when the ice starts breaking up. A trip to the town of Churchill, Manitoba in mid-June to mid-August is your best bet for an encounter with several belugas.

Read our fact sheet on belugas here.

Bowhead Whales

Best place to see them: Norway and Canada

These baleen whales are one of only three whale species that are only found in Arctic waters. Recognised stocks include those in Baffin Bay and Hudson Bay, Canada and in Spitsbergen, Norway. While it’s possible to have a close encounter, don’t hold your breath – sadly, their thick blubber have made bowheads the victims of commercial exploitation.



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