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Eco-friendly Whale Watching in Norway with Brim Explorer

08 Jun 2020, by Sarah Marshall

Silence. It’s been one the positives to emerge from lockdown: the quiet streets, the empty skies, the uninterrupted roar of the sea. For decades, human-induced noise has drowned out the sounds of nature; an insidious pollutant, it can inflict just as much long-term damage as plastics and fossil fuels.

This year on World Oceans Day, June 8, conservationists are calling upon global leaders to pledge a commitment to protecting 30% of our oceans by 2030. Reducing the sonic disruption caused by shipping should surely be part of that plan.

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Orcas swimming in the Norwegian Sea

Many species, such as whales, rely on clear channels to communicate over 4,000 miles, but boat propellers can interfere with frequencies to a maddening extent.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when ship and air traffic in North America dramatically declined, a scientific study revealed a link between noise and chronic stress in baleen whales. Now, in this rare period of peace, a race is on to monitor the impact of sound on other species.

As tourists, we can make our own contributions to change through the choices we make.

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Viewing Orcas coming to the surface

Last year, Icelandic-born entrepreneur Agnes Árnadóttir launched her Brim Explorer project with the aim of making whale watching tours a quieter and more comfortable activity. Using a hybrid engine, her sleek, environmentally efficient vessel zips along the Norwegian coastline searching for orcas between November and January, switching to fully electric power once the whales are in sight. On a gentle cruise through Tromso’s fjords, which are much closer, it’s a silent glide all the way.

As tourists, we can make our own contributions to change through the choices we make

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Drawings of Brim Explorer

A nautical enthusiast, Agnes has a pedigree in the maritime industry: her family established North Sailing, Iceland’s first whale watching company, based in Husavik. She also has a passion for green issues, and previously worked for non-profit Bellona, an agency advising on sustainable environmental solutions. We spoke to her about her pioneering new project.

Aside from the electric engine, why is Brim a green vessel?

More than 50% of the ship has been made with recycled material. I also wanted the hull to be made of aluminium as it’s recyclable. Our second ship, launched next season, will have no coating on the hull; there’s a risk these can scrape off and leave microplastics in the ocean.

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The Brim Explorer in the Norwegian Sea

Onboard, nothing is served in plastic, and we work with Mathallen, one of the best restaurants in Tromso, to serve food for our aurora dinner cruises. They use local ingredients and fish not commonly used; I like their philosophy.

But we don’t want to market ourselves as sustainable; we just want to show that we are.

What makes this such a comfortable whale watching vessel?

I wanted a boat where you wouldn’t have to wear clumsy insulation suits, so we have areas inside where people can be warm and still admire the view. Polarised glass windows in the lounge areas enhance the detail and colour; to optimise space, we lowered the deck outside, so no-one is blocking your view.

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Brim Explorer sailing from Tromso in Norway

Using a silent motor also attracts more whales to the ship. Orcas are constantly communicating, and we have hydrophones to live broadcast the sounds they make.

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Orcas seen on the silent whale watching cruise from Tromso in Norway

We also have an underwater drone, with footage shown on a screen in the lounge, although for now we’ll only be using that on the fjord tours. Last season, we had 50 jelly fish floating past! Starfish also look surprisingly colourful under the dark waves.

How will Brim evolve in the future?

This ship will operate from Tromso in winter and the Lofoten islands in summer. In Svalbard, Hurtigruten have exclusively chartered our second ship for short day tours to Pyramiden and Barentsburg; these will be fully electric with batteries charged by solar power. I dream of building an electric ship with solar panels onboard for longer expedition voyages, sailing for several days along the east coast of Greenland and Svalbard. I hope that will happen within five years.

Watch the video to learn more

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