Day 8 |
Aug 19, 2010


By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: N77º33.171’ E015º03.991’
Weather: Sunny and warm with scattered clouds
Air Temperature: 7ºC

It was so good to wake up to bright sunlight and calm seas today – we have had mainly overcast skies and strong winds for the past few days! I was looking forward to today because we were planning on landing at Bamsebu in Bellsund on the southern section of Spitsbergen. Bamsebu is a great landing, with many different aspects. It also a great place to get out and stretch your legs.

By 0800 we have scouted and not found any polar bears, so I drove one of the MK5 Zodiacs ashore with other members of the lecture staff and we had a little bit of time to scout the area and make sure everything was ready to go with the first group at 0830.

Bamsebu is a site of great historic value. In the 1930s it was the area of mass beluga whale slaughtering. There are still piles of the beluga whale bones left behind by the whalers. They were after the oil – not the meat. The oil from the melon of the whale is a very light lubricant that was used for watches, delicate machinery and illuminating lighthouses. I walked my groups up the hill to a lookout post where the whalers would sit for hours looking out to see if belugas were in the fjord. If they spotted them, then the whalers would launch their boats, fix seine nets across the opening of the fjord and herd the whales into the nets. They would then drag the nets with the whales back to the shore side where they would kill the whales by shooting or lancing.

The other key man-made structure on the shore side is a hut called ‘Bamsebu’ – or translated from Norwegian into ‘Bear Hut’. This hut, originally built many decades ago, is privately owned and well maintained as a trapper’s hut. It has a unique structure – designed specifically to stand up to any bear attacks. The bear deterrent features include sturdy logs that prop up the house and 5-inch nails sticking from the inside out so that if a bear tries to lean against the hut with his paws, the nails would pierce him.

As we strolled along the tundra between sites, I pointed out a range of other things, including ice wedges, stone circles and the raised beaches in the distance (these are beach fronts that have been raised above sea level by the rebound of the land after the ice has melted over thousands of years). We also stopped to marvel at some huge reindeer antlers. These antlers are shed every year and the deer have to re-grow new ones – an amazing feat when you see how very large the male antlers can actually get!

The tundra we were walking over was beautiful. Only a few flowers were actually in bloom, but the subtle colours of the leaves of the other species of plants were like the autumn foliage change in New England – but just in miniature! I pointed out the little polar willow plant. This is an amazing plant – it is actually a woody plant, but because of the frozen earth and the cold climate, does not grow into a proper tree, but stays small and close to the ground. But it is a deciduous plant, and the leaves turn colour to orange and red in the autumn, and this is what we were seeing all over the tundra.

I was also able to show my group the difference between goose dropping, full of nothing but vegetation, and Arctic fox dropping, full of feathers and bones from birds.

We ended the walk at the site of some huge bear prints that have dried in a mud patch – it was a lot of fun to actually place your hands next to the paw print and actually get a better idea of exactly how HUGE polar bear paws actually are!!!

We really had a great morning – the sun was shining, there was no wind, and we were outside in the beautiful arctic surrounded by a panoramic view of rugged mountains and shining glaciers!!! It was truly beautiful!!!!

After lunch, Robin West, our Expedition Leader, gave a fascinating lecture entitled “The Building of the M/v Prince Albert II” about the various renovations that the Prince Albert II has undergone over her life as a ship – especially the magnificent changes that Silversea made before launching her a few years ago. He had a great selection of photos of the ship during the renovation.

Later in the afternoon, Sue Flood, one of the General Naturalists on our team, gave another lecture entitled “The Making of the BBC/Discovery series ‘The Blue Planet’”. Sue was the Assistant Producer for nearly 5 years on this series, and regaled us with astounding stories of their experiences filming this show.

Just before dinner, at 6:30pm, we had another Recap & Briefing where various Expedition Team members talked about a range of things they saw today, and Robin explained the plans for tomorrow at Bear Island – another of my absolute favourite places for a Zodiac tour!!!