Day 4 |
Aug 25, 2011

Kapp Lee, Edgeoya, Svalbard

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: N78º04.59.2’, E020º48.28.3’
Air Temperature: 2ºC

We were hoping to wake up to a sunshiny day today, but it just did not happen! Instead, when I got up and dressed to head out into the Zodiacs, it was foggy, raining and windy.

Our plans had been to do a Zodiac tour near a beached whale carcass where there were two polar bears, but conditions were just too rough. The scout boat went out with Robin West, our Expedition Leader, Chris Srigley, one of our Bear Guards, and our Captain to assess the situation, but when they came back (drenched!) they reported that the waves were crashing over the sides of the Zodiac and the fog was so low that we really could not see anything onshore. The polar bears, too, must have decided the weather was too bad to feed, and were lying down, resting, far up the beach slope.

So, in true expedition style, our plans changed and the ship sailed off in the direction of the west coast of Edgeøya for a wonderful location called Diskobukta. Here, there are thousands of Kittiwake gulls that nest on the cliffs of a small gorge. We often see Arctic fox patrolling the cliffs looking to grab unprotected eggs or checks. So, our new plan for the day was to sail over there (about 40 miles away) and do a late morning landing. In the interim, our ornithologist, Franz Barlein, gave a lecture entitled Bird Migration.

Franz’s career has focused on understanding bird migration, so he is the perfect person to talk to us about the most up-to-date research on birds – how they know where to go, when to go, and how to get there. He told us about some birds that migrate HUGE distances – like the Arctic tern that flies from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back every year (more than 50,000 km) and the Godwit that flies from Alaska to New Zealand and back every year.

I was all dressed in my parka and waterproof pants, and heading to the gangway, when Robin West made a radio call to the Expedition Team to come to the Bridge – there were two bears on Diskobukta – right where we wanted to land! And sure enough, when I got to the Bridge and looked through my binoculars, there was one bear patrolling the entrance of the gorge, and another wandering up and down the ridge where we usually climb up for our long-walk option. So, that meant that we could not land – another cancelled landing – two in one day.

So…plan C - instead of landing, we gathered outside on the decks and pointed the bears out to the guests, then the ship turned and we headed towards a third option for the day – Kapp Lee, a landing site farther to the north, but still on the island of Edgeøya.

We arrived shortly after lunch, and were soon heading out on Zodiacs. It was still overcast, drizzly and windy, but most of the guests were ready to get off the ship and go for a walk. Since there were no walrus hauled-out on the beach today (there is usually a small herd found here) I was able to stand farther down the beach where the bones of thousands of walrus, killed in the 1600s and 1700s, lie on top of the tundra. As each group of guests passed by my ‘post’ I took a few minutes to explain to them all about walrus – why they are often found here, what they feed on, and why early hunters targeted them.

By 5pm, when the last Zodiac left the shoreside, we were well and truly ready for a hot chocolate to warm us up. Tonight was our first Recap & Briefing, so there were tons of questions. It was a fun recap with lots of joking and laughter!