Day 7 |
Aug 28, 2010

Palanderbukta, Alkefjellet and Augustabukta

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: N79º38’39.0”, E020º33’29.6”
Weather: Sunny in the morning turning overcast by afternoon
Air Temperature: 3ºC

WOW!! The sun was shining bright this morning when I woke up at 6:30am! Everything outside was sparkling – the wave crests, the glaciers and the small icebergs that we sailed past on our way down Palanderbukta to the landing site at Zeipelodden.

Zeipelodden is a very interesting site. It is a typical ‘polar desert’, receiving less than 20cm of water (rain or snow) a year. At first glance there doesn’t seem a lot to see, just a wide valley of broken rocks. But, in reality, there is a lot to see. The geology in particular is fascinating. Juan Restrepo, our geologist, told us about how raised beaches (which were what the various levels of ridges were) form as the ice melts and the land mass ‘bounces’ up, uplifting the old beach and forming a new one. Juan also showed us examples of beautiful stone rings formed by the process of freezing and thawing over the years.

Once my group was ashore, we headed off on a 1.5-hour walk up into the valley to the bottom of the ridge, then across to the other side and back to the shore. It was great to really stretch our legs and experience the unique views of this vast barren land.

One of the highlights of the walk was seeing the carcass of a polar bear cub that has been mummified. The skull, although disconnected from the body, was still in perfect condition and allowed us to get a good look at the teeth!

I dropped off my last guests back onboard the Prince Albert II in time for a delicious lunch before we reached the magnificent cliffs of Alkefjellet (Mount Guillemot). These steep cliffs are home to thousands of nesting guillemot birds. Although they had mostly all left and we only saw a few remaining birds, it was still wonderful to be out on the foredeck as the Captain negotiated the vessel in close. The cliffs towered above us.

Just as we were starting to sail away, the Expedition Team spotted a fin whale that came very close to the ship, providing us with great views. At one point the whale passed within about 10m. We could really get a sense of how large this incredible creature is – in fact, fin whales are the second largest animal to ever have existed on earth – the only larger animal is the blue whale.

The ship sailed onwards towards our next stop – Augustabukta – where we expected to see walrus…and we did!! As soon as we arrived, I headed off to land with one of the Bear Guards to set up a flagged trail and perimeter around the walrus. There were about 10 – 12 animals hauled out on the shore, and several more swimming nearby. But, unfortunately, our plans had to change. Partway through the first group’s visit ashore, I got a radio call that there was a polar bear heading our way – although it was still several kilometers away, we decided to play it safe and got everyone off the shore. As an alternative, we offered Zodiac tours to see BOTH the polar bear and the walrus, and in fact it probably ended up being a better option – two for one!

By the time we returned to the ship just in time for dinner, we were all cold and hungry, but elated at the sightings we had had all day. For me, I was just happy to thaw out!!!