Day 7 |
Aug 18, 2010

St. Jonsfjord and Prins Karls Forland, Svalbard 

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist


Co-ordinates: N 78º 31’ 58”, E 012º 56’ 59”
Weather: Dissolving clouds
Air Temperature: 2ºC
Sea Temperature: 0ºC
Pressure: 1024 hPa
Wind: Calm

This morning we got to Poolepynten – a walrus haul-out in Prins Karls Forland – and were quite confident that we were in for some good sightings. Unfortunately, when we got there, there were none to be seen. It is quite unusual, as they are usually there. Only one time in my previous four seasons have I not seen Walrus at this haul-out... We decided to give the walrus some time to show up and headed east for St. Jonsfjord.

St. Jonsfjord is a relatively small fjord, only 20 km long, with several glaciers and mountains that display beautiful colors in good light conditions. Nice scenery, wide-open views … the mountains, glaciers and colors are beautiful. The English Northern Exploration Company (NEC) investigated copper ores on the south side and built a hut called Copper Camp for that purpose, but the occurrence was not economic. Norwegian trappers occasionally visited the area during the early 20th century and a hut on the north side is evidence of those activities.

We landed 61 of our fittest guests for a strenuous walk that took us to a small plateau where we had a chance to see approximately 10 Rock Ptarmigans, a rather rare bird, before going on to a viewpoint where we all enjoyed sights of 4 or 5 Svalbard Reindeer running along the mountainside. The hike then continued on down to a glacial moraine and closer to the glacier.

Meanwhile the remainder of our guests went on for shorter guided nature walks as well as some independent exploration of this beautiful corner of western Spitsbergen.

By noon we were back on board and the timing was good for a Polar Plunge. Thirty-one guests and six crewmembers took the plunge into the icy waters. From the Zodiac they jumped into the 0ºC waters of the fjord and very quickly up the ladder into the boat again. It was all fun and giggles and those brave souls got a certificate to prove their bravery. Those that decided to pass had a great time observing and photographing from the decks.

During lunch, the Prince Albert II sailed back to Poolepynten to try again to find some walrus. Still not there, so we sailed up north along the coast of Prins Karls Forland, an 85 km long and quite narrow island. The scenery was quite spectacular. While Robin Aiello lectured on marine mammal adaptations, our team of naturalists and bear guards was at the Bridge scanning the coastline looking for walrus. When the ship got as far north as you can go before running aground, the captain dropped the anchor and a Zodiac was lowered in order to go on a scouting trip to Richardlaguna, a coastal lagoon and the only other walrus haul-out on this side of the archipelago together with Poolepynten. Robin West our fearless Expedition Leader and a few staff members went on a 7-mile long (one way) Zodiac ride up to this lagoon, and oddly enough… no walrus there either. We are all puzzled about this. It seems like they have all disappeared. One can only speculate about the reasons why they seem to have left early. Did a particularly warm summer allow them to finish their business and molting ashore sooner? I guess we will never know, but the truth of the matter is that there is nothing else that we can humanly do to find a walrus in this part of the world. That’s the way it goes with wildlife. Sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t.

During the afternoon the weather had cleared up and the blue skies, the jagged mountain alpine scenery, the low soft light over the glaciers and the perfectly calm water made for an idyllic afternoon on board. At 6:30 pm a Recap & Briefing preceded dinner. I must say that one cannot wish for better views while having supper.