Orcas are not Summoned at Will

Iceland in winter is a striking sight – especially for two foreigners used to warmer temperatures and only rain! The snow storms, the grey seas, the outcroppings of black rock make for a truly wild landscape where human beings realise they are but guests on the planet and not its masters.

A fitting setting for one of the most majestic, mysterious, fascinating marine animal of all, the orca. And orcas are not summoned at will. But with patience and some luck, you can be rewarded with a wonderful encounter.

Less than ideal weather conditions had defeated our first attempt to see them at sea. But, thanks to Orca Guardians, we learned that they sometimes follow the herring schools quite close to shore. So we went driving along the coast, keeping our eyes peeled, when the tell-tale shape of the black sword slowly rose from the waters, only a hundred meters away! A minute later, we were out of the car. And indeed, two individuals were exploring the fjord. Only the gentle lapping of the sea and the breath of the wind filled the air as we watched those two magnificent animals slowly roam their domain, with the snowy hills as backdrop.

The short winter day was fast declining, adding to the otherworldly quality of the encounter. Seeing those noble animals in their natural environment, even for a short time, is an awe-inspiring experience, always reminding you to listen to the silence of the wild, to open yourself fully to the moment. And maybe that is the chief reason for studying and protecting nature: to save our own capacity as a species to encounter beauty in the world. To save our souls.

That is why, when I had the wonderful honour to name one of the animals Orca Guardians regularly encounters – who was then a young calf –, I did not have to look far to find what seemed like a suitable name. “Ardence” is found in no French dictionary that you might encounter. It is a composite word based on the French “ardeur” (which roughly translates to “ardour”, with the added connotation of passion and courage). It comes from my “Léviathan” books, where it is a concept that the main characters search for and revere at the same time, both elusive and incredibly strong: it is the most supreme form of the will to live, to act fully, the power to make the impossible possible. It has the strength of the most intense faith, but without an object of devotion. I humbly hope that word will carry young Ardence to a wonderful, passionate, and above all, secure life!

Two orcas seen from land by Lionel Davoust, 21.12.2016. He visited Snæfellsnes from the 20th to the 22nd of December 2016, and was in the right place at the right time.

Two orcas seen from land by Lionel Davoust, 21.12.2016. He visited Snæfellsnes from the 20th to the 22nd of December 2016, and was in the right place at the right time.

Winter landscape

Winter landscape

The fjord in darkness

The fjord in darkness

Juvenile Ardence (SN059) close-up from land in March 2015. Ardence belongs to the core group of Von (SN053) and is, therefore, part of our second most sighted group in winter.

Juvenile Ardence (SN059) close-up from land in March 2015. Ardence belongs to the core group of Von (SN053) and is, therefore, part of our second most sighted group in winter.

Ardence (SN059) in the lead, followed by relative SN057 and the latest newborn in the group, the calf of Snowflake (SN054). Other well-known members of this core group are Katla (SN058) and Thunderstorm (SN060).

Ardence (SN059) in the lead, followed by relative SN057 and the latest newborn in the group, the calf of Snowflake (SN054). Other well-known members of this core group are Katla (SN058) and Thunderstorm (SN060).