Day 17 |
Jun 21, 2010

Bamsebu And Poolepynten, Svalbard

By Kara Weller, Naturalist and Zodiac driver

Co-ordinates: 77° 56 ’ N – 12° 54’ E (Noon position)

Weather:  overcast and windy

Air temperature: 10° C

Wind: 40 knots

Pressure: 1004 hPa

The summer solstice! The longest day of the year turned out to be a long day indeed in which we tried to do as much as possible on this, our last day of our voyage. My alarm went off at 4:15 am and I crawled my way to the Bridge along with several other staff members to search for polar bears as we entered the protected fjord and got closer to land. For a short while there was some excitement on the Bridge, which died just as quickly when we realized that the reindeer we were looking at was not a bear after all.

The wind was blowing quite fiercely when we launched the Zodiacs from our anchorage in Van Keulenfjord and set off towards our landing site – a place called Bamsebu. Van Keulenfjord is a big fjord that cuts 35 kilometers into the island of Spitsbergen, and here on the inside of it we went to shore near a small trapper’s hut that stood on the lonely shore. Wind and swell got us nice and wet on the way in and the wind continued to howl fiercely all morning.

Walking in groups across the tundra we saw the huge piles of beluga whale bones that were left on the beach near the nicely maintained little hut. It was interesting to imagine life there. Purple saxifrage bloomed in profusion everywhere we walked, and the scenery surrounding us was absolutely beautiful.

We had a long distance to cover from our first landing to our second, so after a nice walk and look around on shore, we returned to the ship and pulled up anchor to head back out into the wind. Scouting for polar bears once again resulted in nothing but more reindeer. But the landscape around us was stunning with a fresh dusting of snow from last night. In the meanwhile, we had a lecture from Victoria entitled “Arctic Tales: Murder, Mutiny and Mayhem” in which she told us about the explorers Hudson, Kane and Hall. After lunch Robin gave a talk on the making of the Prince Albert II and the previous lives of the lovely ship we are now on.

Poolepynten was our afternoon destination and we arrived around 3 pm. Our goal here was to see walrus that normally haul out onto a spit of land between the ocean and a small lake. And indeed as the Captain brought the ship around the corner and into the bay we could see a group of 5 huge walrus lying in a heap on the beach.

No time was wasted getting the Zodiacs launched and heading to shore. In order to not crowd the walrus and also to give everyone ample viewing opportunities, each Zodiac group was taken separately, for a walk down the beach to see them from the shoreside, and also for a Zodiac cruise to see them from the water. One huge male lay next to several other individuals, including a relatively small calf with not yet fully developed tusks. Long thought to be somehow involved in helping the walrus to forage for food, the tusks’ main purpose is for defense and for fighting. Both males and females have them, though here in the Atlantic they are significantly smaller than in the Pacific population.

The scenery all around us on shore was beautiful and mountains gleamed with the low light. The wind had been blowing strongly all day but it had been surprisingly warm on shore.

With one last scrub of our gumboots, we returned to the ship and finished our last landing. Dinner was followed by the viewing of Richard’s wonderful video of the trip and the evening ended for most with more drinks and packing.