Transcript for Tracking killer whales off the coast of Norway
Tonight we join an adventurer on a journey to the freezing waters of Norway coming face-to-face with wild killer whalts. They're an apex predator but now they're the ones being hunted. Can the work of this modern-day viking turn the tide? Here's ABC's Gloria Riviera. Reporter: When you see them here, the limitless expanses of the blue oceans, it's hard to think of them like this. Confined to tanks. They belong out there in the wild. Reporter: At least that's the hope of marine biologist and adventurer Andreas and his crew as they set out on a journey to the edge of the map. To come face-to-face with orca whales in a way few will ever see them. Diving into arctic waters, risking life and limb to swim with the killer whales and capturing it all on camera. The part of our being out there is to show the orcas and the whales in their natural elements to us and everyone that sees them. It's very obvious that these animals do not belong in captivity. Reporter: Even though these mighty beasts are the apex predators of the sea, they are the ones at risk. Firestorm tonight over a proposal to ban very popular attraction at SeaWorld. The company is launching a big pr blitz. It is attacking the credibility of a stinging documentary that explores the death of a SeaWorld trainer -- Reporter: It was four years ago, "Blackfish" made waves for aquatic theme parks, highlighting what the filmmaker claims are the cruel realities of killer whale capture. When the whole hunt was over there were three dead whales in the net. Reporter: Underscoring the risk the trainers face when they dive into the tanks for performances. He said, there's been an accident. And a trainer was killed. Reporter: The backlash against one-time staples like SeaWorld -- Boycott SeaWorld! Reporter: Almost immediately tangible. I often look at the beautiful ocean and wish the whales confined at SeaWorld had freedom. Reporter: Orca whale breeding programs by and large ended in the U.S. Whale shows as we knew them permanently canceled. Now Asian markets are getting into the act. Has the effect of "Blackfish" caught on globally in air should? We are making rapid progress in the west, whereas in the east, they are going backwards. That's the new battleground. Reporter: China has developed a booming appetite for aquatic entertainment. With over 40 sites across the country and more under construction. Premier parks have already angered conservationists with their beluga whale shows. But recently the company began acquiring orcas, captured from Russian seas. Some whales killed in the process. The live captures are allegedly transported by truck to China where there are no federal animal welfare laws regulating their care. What's happening in Russia is they are taking animals from a single population. This population is probably less than 300 animals. They are mammal eaters. These are the ones that actually hunt and kill other dolphins, other seals, sea lions, et cetera. They're not fish eaters, the vegetarians of the orca world, who are by and large the animals that are in captivity in the west. So when they get caught and they get put in a tank, they know how to hunt. I'm very concerned about the safety of these trainers. Reporter: Chinese state media releasing the first videos of their orca whales earlier this year. Started with nine at one facility. We know there's four in a second facility. The concern is that if the facilities are successful, there's going to be another one that's going to be I want an oh character I want three orcas, I want nine orcas, who knows. Reporter: Video and social media a crucial tool for activists like Dr. Rose. We are doing everything we can to reach as many people as possible. These viral videos are getting literally birdseye views that we've never had of these animals before. They are on the top of the fo chain and they are incredibly smart. You can see that by being in the water with them. As a storyteller they want to share this. Reporter: Dubbed the modern-day viking Andreas' trek to find the killer whales is not an easy one. To get to the whales we have to sale for sync to nine days along the Norwegian coast, two-thirds of it. Reporter: It takes over a week to reach trumpso, a town in northern Norway near the whales' freezing feeding grounds. Most of the year these orcas are out in open water where it's very difficult to follow them. Reporter: Andreas captains a sailboat, the "Barba." He invites floridian and former orca trainer Jess cope. For her this trip has intensely person alimonying. I have a picture from when I'm 6 years old sitting on Shamu. Fast forward 20 years later. I've got a video of me doing the whale show at the Miami aquarium. This is before they changed everything. Doing a show like that, it's not about the people clapping and the audience. It really is about the relationship that you have with these animals that you've built over so many years. Shame, shame, shame on you! Reporter: She says once "Blackfish" was released things started to change. It was just a very sad and disheartening experience to have all of a sudden our career be negatively viewed. Reporter: Eventually Jess transitioned careers and Miami sea aquarium stopped doing traditional whale shows. After connecting with Andreas online she couldn't pass up an opportunity to swim with orcas again. I was thinking, this is too good to be true. Heading to the airport. Bye, Florida. Reporter: She sets on off to Norway. Landed in Oslo. I'm so excited. It looks very cold outside. Reporter: And boards the "Barba." Home sweet home. Reporter: From there they set off into freezing waters. They must endure subzero temperatures. Navigate through snow storms and polar nights. Some of the worst sailing is when you get caught in the bad weather. We've seen quite a few blizzards now. Reporter: Deal with cramped conditions below deck. Hello! Reporter: Then the matter of actually finding the whales. I see two boats. Two fishing vessels. No whales yet. Reporter: Eventually -- It's crazy! Reporter: They see black fins over the waves. I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life. Once we see whales, we approach them gently. Sometimes we just hang around for hours and then at some point they will start coming up to the boat once they are relaxed and calm. I was so excited. I was just like, let's go, let's go! Reporter: It's finally time to suit up. We're ready to go swimming. Reporter: Even though these animals are fierce hunters, they have only wet suits for protection. They're exceptionally powerful, they could kill you in second, they choose not to. Reporter: They dive in. And come face-to-face with the mighty orcas. When I first saw the whales in the water, I was emotional. It was just really incredible to see them there. In their natural habitat. Reporter: The experience, indescribable. I got like so close. Reporter: But recorded expertly for the public by Andreas and his team. I think adding the human element to a documentary, people are to a greater extent able to identify themselves with the story that's being told. Reporter: Putting them one step closer to achieving their goal. Raising awareness for the well-being of these gentle giants in the wild. And for Jess, giving her a new outlet for the calling she felt all those years ago. This trip was completely invigorating. If anything it did spark back up that enthusiasm to continue to work with marine mammals, continuing to grow that passion that I can hopefully share with other people all over the world. Reporter: For "Nightline" I'm Gloria Riviera.
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