Hvalsafari AS (Whalesafari Andenes): Whale watching with a money-back guarantee
Text: Alyssa Nilsen | Photos: Tone and Thorleif
FFor the past three decades, Hvalsafari AS (Whalesafari Andenes) has been bringing people from all over the world closer to the giants in the sea. From its small beginnings in 1989, the company has expanded and perfected its craft and product, and may well be the only whale-watching company in the world with a money-back guarantee if no whales are seen.
Located in Andenes, the northernmost settlement of the island of Andøya, Hvalsafari AS is a destination whose visitors find themselves surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of the Vesterålen archipelago in northern Norway on one side, and the vastness of the North Atlantic Ocean on the other – the perfect location for whale spotting.
“We were actually the first to offer whale safaris in Norway,” Geir Maan, general manager and owner of Hvalsafari AS, explains. The idea of a whale spotting company was born when Swedish and Danish marine biologists were travelling the Norwegian coastline and, during a stay at Andenes, told tales of sperm whales discovered in the sea outside the village. They also told of other countries using such opportunities for tourism, bringing the people out to the whales.
The idea was brought to life, and after a successful trial season in 1988, the company was officially founded in 1989. The rest, as they say, is history. 30 years and 400,000 tourists later, Hvalsafari AS now has two boats fully customised as whale watching vessels, as well as a whale museum with a souvenir shop, a restaurant, and a bar with panoramic views of the Andenes Harbour and the ocean.
Using technology to ensure safety and success
A lot has changed since the company first started out. Technology has improved both on land and at sea, and finding the whales is no longer the guessing-game it once was. On board their boats, they have underwater listening devices called hydrophones, allowing Maan and the rest of the crew to hear the whales from miles away. This, again, allows them to easily locate and find the whales, rather than having to wait and hope for a chance encounter. The hydrophones also help to make the trips more efficient and environmentally friendly, as they allow for shorter trips and less fuel being used.
This allows Hvalsafari AS to introduce a complete money-back guarantee as part of their 30th anniversary. “If no whales show up during the trip, we refund your ticket,” Maan says. “We’ve been out 270 times so far this year, and except for the couple of times we’ve had to return to land due to the weather conditions changing, we’ve seen whales on every single trip.”
But even before a trip kicks off, technology is utilised. The weather conditions in coastal environments change rapidly, and the company is continuously keeping an eye on the weather forecasts to make sure the trips are safe. With the gulf stream on their doorstep, the strength and direction of wind dictate how rough the sea gets. This might mean that a trip is brought forward or postponed on short notice, but it’s all in the best interest of the customers.
But even if you find yourself having to wait an extra day or two to get to go out on a boat, there’s plenty to do on land In the winter, Andenes is among the best places in Norway to see the northern lights, and Hvalsafari AS is happy to help you experience the phenomenon on its northern lights safaris. In the summer, there’s the midnight sun, offering magical nights with golden views of the ocean and hikes over the sandy, white beaches.
And soon, you’ll be out on the waves with Maan and his crew, respectfully greeting the great marine mammals. Hvalsafari AS takes great care in treating the whales appropriately and not disturbing them in their natural habitat. They use low speed, approach them from behind, and attempt to never approach a whale with more than one boat at a time. They leave it up to the whale to decide the distance to the vessel, and the captain always keeps an eye on the behaviour of the whale to make sure it’s as comfortable and safe as the people on deck.
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