Day 10 |
Jun 22, 2012

Alkefjellet and Palanderbukta, Svalbard 

By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 79°35’N, 18°35’E
Weather: sunny
Air temperature: 0.6° C
Wind: 20 km per hour
Pressure: 1002 hPa
Humidity: 93%

During the night the Silver Explorer made good speed north and then east towards the Hinlopen Strait, hoping to encounter ice in the morning. Fog however awaited us and visibility was quite poor first thing in the morning. Peering through the fog in flat calm waters we could see a bit of sea ice and we cautiously navigated towards it and even stuck the ship nicely into the ice for a while. Unable to proceed any further, it was decided that a lecture would be put on in the morning since not much could be seen outside. But then suddenly the fog cleared and a polar bear was spotted on the ice in the distance against the far shore! Everyone rushed outside to see, though this bear didn’t prove to be too accommodating and shortly afterwards disappeared behind a hill.

I gave a talk at 10:00 about the various seal species found in Svalbard and included the fascinating walrus. Just afterwards we headed back outside as the ship was approaching the Alkefjellet bird cliffs. Also called “Mount Guillemot” these cliffs are home to thousands and thousands of Brunnich’s guillemots. At over 100 meters tall, tens of thousands of these stout little black and white birds use the rocky ledges to lay their eggs on during the summer season. The water right up to the base of the cliffs was as deep as 60 meters in places and the Captain brought the ship right up for everyone out on deck to get a fantastic view. The swarms of black birds that circled and flew off these little ledges and around and over us were impressive. A few (myself included) were blessed with a sprinkle of bird droppings (supposed to be good luck but I expect that is just to make the victim feel better).

Shortly after lunch everyone headed back outside to the outer decks to watch as we approached the sea ice in Palanderbukten on the east side of the Hinlopen Strait. We were hoping to find more polar bears here; instead we spotted a female walrus and her quite small pup resting on an ice floe. Males are mostly found in Svalbard whereas the females and young tend to stay further east, so this was an excellent surprise. She looked at us a bit skittishly and so we realized we could not approach too closely without the fear of driving her and her pup into the water. And so we left them to their quiet white icy peace and moved on.

Bearded seals were seen resting on ice floes as well – their brownish grayish bewhiskered bodies hardly moved when the ship approached them. But we were rewarded with an even better sighting shortly afterwards – a mother polar bear with her 2 little first year cubs!!! Skirting along the edge of the island they seemed to be making steady progress walking along the shores of the snow-covered land. We weren’t sure they would stay in a position to make them viewing from the Zodiac possible, but luck was with us and after the ship pushed into more ice, the Zodiacs were launched and we headed off to get a better and closer view of this beautiful mother polar bear and her two cubs. She ambled along calmly close to the shore for quite a while enabling us to get perfect views of her beautiful form – complete with radio collar! And her 2 small cubs trailing along behind. At one point she dove into a hole in the snow to see what was in it leaving us with a charming view of only her furry backside. At a later point she stopped to stare intensely into a crack on an ice floe, as if hoping a fish or seal might pop up at any moment for her to grab, her cubs meanwhile waiting and watching her from the side with great interest and intensity. We chose to leave her and her small family in peace after a time and returned to the ship.

Because the sun was shining and it was a glorious day surrounded by ice here in Paladerbukta, our marvelous hotel department decided to put on a cocktail party out on the stern deck in the sunshine! It was wonderful out there admiring the views of the surrounding mountains as well as the fantastic Erikabreen glacier. An ivory gull flew overhead and more bearded seals could be spotted lying about on the sea ice in the distance.

Recap & Briefing was given outside during the cocktail party, and just afterwards yet another polar bear was sighted wandering around on the sea ice in the distance! Our wonderful Captain maneuvered the ship through the ice and close to the bear and we were able to watch it trying to creep up on a few seals lying in what seemed to be oblivion on the ice. Lucky for them they sensed the bear from some distance away and slipped quietly into the water and away to safety.

But yet another bear was spotted further out which seemed to have just been successful in killing a seal! It was a SIX bear day! Those few who had very high power binoculars could see it munching happily on its dinner as we slowly trickled back inside the ship and to The Restaurant for our much easier to get and rather significantly more tasty meal. The ship stayed at anchor until about 8 pm after which we moved on slowly through the ice and the beautiful sunshine and midnight sun covered icy landscape towards tomorrow’s destination.