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Day 4 |
Jul 25, 2012

Storoya, Svalbard 

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, Polar Bear Guard, Zodiac Driver and Cartographer

Co-ordinates: N 80º09'09", E 27º56'54"
Weather: Foggy and Misty
Air Temperature: 2ºC
Pressure: 996 hPa
Wind: 10 knots

Today is a special treat as we have the privilege in traveling to Storoya and Kvitoya, two of the most remote, least visited islands of the world. They are located in the far Northeastern quadrant of Svalbard and, until recently, were usually blocked off from the outside world by sea ice.

The name ‘Storoya’ is a bit of an inside joke as it is Norwegian for ‘Great Island’. However, the smile comes from the fact that it is a relatively small island with a great deal of loose gravel. As nice as the geology is to discuss, the primary attraction at this remote location are the Walrus.

Due to the hunting of Walrus starting in the 1600’s and ending only in the mid 20th century, many of the population centers for these wonderful animals were locally exterminated on the western side of Svalbard. Even today that side of the archipelago is only slowly regaining their lost colonies and so far, we typically seen primarily male Walrus in that area. However, on this eastern side we can observe much larger and vibrant breeding colonies with males, females and calves.

Early in the morning I was up on the Bridge as the ship approached. This gives me an updated idea regarding size and location of walrus in preparation for our planned Zodiac tour. Yet today provided an interesting twist. Just as the ship approached binocular range we could see a large walrus stampede from land to water caused by a polar bear walking over a ridge line towards the herd.

The walrus is the 2nd largest marine mammal species after the elephant seal but despite this large opportunity for meat, polar bears are quite cautious about attacking such a large animal, instead preferring to go after something easier like a bearded seal. Walrus are the only animal that has a reasonable chance to defend itself against a polar bear attack, utilizing both its tusks as well as its large weight.

Soon enough I was climbing into my Zodiac and was eager to board our guests to observe such a stupendous sight as hundreds of walrus swimming around the island with a Polar Bear standing, somewhat alone on the beach. It was simply stunning. From my perspective as a General Naturalist, it also gave me a great opportunity to discuss and answer many great questions about two of the primary and iconic species of the Arctic!

Imagine that you are a walrus. You have the chance to eat as much shellfish as you like. You can sit much of the day in warm, close proximity to your friends on the beach making many loud and rude noises to annoy your friends. It all sounds quite nice to me with the exception of that polar bear issue.

Many of the walrus, particularly the young ones with small tusks, were quite curious about the Zodiacs and I had to often back up to maintain a respectful distance. Unfortunately all too soon it was time to return to the Silver Explorer in order to continue to our next, exciting destination.

During the repositioning of the ship I wandered up to The Theatre for our late morning’s presentation called ‘Birds of the Arctic’ by Rich Pagen our onboard ornithologist. He gave a wonderful overview regarding the many different breeding species that we have seen here in the Far North. I am always amazed that these creatures can be so successful under such challenging conditions. One species in particular, the Arctic Tern, is also one of the world’s migratory champions, spending its summers in the Arctic and then flying towards Antarctica for the other half of the year before returning to start the cycle all over again.

Our planned landing at Kvitoya was to visit the location where three Swedish explorers perished in 1897 while trying to reach the North Pole. Their remains not discovered until 1930. Also discovered at that time were their cameras and scientific notebooks, which gave us a unique insight to their expedition. Kvitoya is an even more remote island even farther to the northeast. However, as is sometimes the case, nature had other plans. From the ship we could see polar bears on our intended landing beach! Of course this prevents us from going ashore but that is no problem as we instantly converted the afternoon’s activity to a Zodiac cruise.

We quickly could observe two bears resting above one beach area. Then moving towards the southwest along the only rocky area on a 27 Km long island covered by an enormous ice cap, we then saw another bear walking along the beach towards another and somewhat unexpected haul-out of walrus. It was another magical moment on this special day of polar bear surprises.

After a long interaction time we also spent some moments observing this huge mass of ice which terminates in most areas in 30 meter or more high ice cliffs. These can also include glacial waterfalls tumbling into the sea at certain times of the year.

Of course after all of these events the day is not quite done. Like the rest of the Expedition Team I attended our Recap & Briefing to discuss plans for tomorrow as well as to review certain aspects of animal behavior previously seen during the day. Today I did not have the chance to speak at the English language Recap but instead spoke at our German language Recap. This provided me the chance to speak about that Swedish Balloon Expedition and describe why Kvitoya is such a famous location for lovers of history. It was truly a day full of superlatives and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Can’t wait for tomorrow!! 
 

Voyage 2012
Day 4
July 25, 2012
Storoya and Kvitoya
Harald Schwammer, Zoologist

Co-ordinates: N 80º09'09", E 27º56'54"
Weather: Dense clouds and foggy
Air Temperature: -1ºC
Pressure: 961 hPa
Wind: 5 knots

Am frühen Morgen erreichte die Silver Explorer die Insel Storoya. Das Wetter schaute nicht sehr überzeugend aus, den es regnete leicht. Trotzdem warteten schon alle gespannt auf die Zodiakfahrt und um 7 Uhr 30 wurden die Gruppe 2 und 3 ausgebootet. Michaela und ich übenehmen einen der großen Zodiacs mit 12 deutsch - sprachigen Gästen. Unsere Bärenführer hatten bereits einen großen Eisbären am Stand ausgemacht und natürlich war er unser erstes Ziel.

In der großen Bucht war andauernd das Gebrüll der Walrösser zu hören, auf dem Strand rekelte sich eine Gruppe von über 20 Tiere, doch die Bucht selbst war voll von Walrössern in Gruppen von 15-20 Individuen. Die Tier beäugten neugierig unsere Zodiacs, wir hielten ganz sorgsam unseren Sicherheitsabstand zu den Tieren ein und so vergnügten sich die Walrösser ungestört in ihren Schwimmspielen.

Plötzlich nahmen wir die Tiere nicht nur akustisch und optische war, da sich der typische, intensive Walroß-Geruch zu diesem Erlebnis dazugesellte.

Der Eisbär hatte sich inzwischen auf seinem Kontrollgang der Küste entlang entfernt und auch wir verließen die Bucht für eine Rundfahrt.

Es regnete noch immer leicht, am Stand lag auffallend viel Schwemmholz, dicke Baumstämme, die durch die Meeresströmung aus Rußland bis hierher verdriftet wurden.

Küstenseeschwalben beäugten in niederem Flug unseren Zodiac, und auch Eidergänse zogen in kleinen Schwärmen der Küste entlang vorbei. Am Ufer entdeckten wir eine Gans mit Kücken, die aufgeregt herumliefen.

Auf der Rückfahrt wurde neuerlich ein Eisbär gesichtet, dann gings zurück zum Schiff um die zweite Gruppe zu übernehmen und 11 Uhr waren auch die letzten wieder an Bord, um eine heiße Dusche und danach den interessanten Vorträgen zu lauschen.

Rich Pagan erzählte in englischer Sprache über die Vogelarten, die es hier in dieser Region zu sehen gibt. Es folgte der deutsche Vortrag vom Michaela Mayer über die Wale und Robben der arktischen Region.

Danach lockte bereits ein köstliches Mittagessen und an den Tischen hörte man begeisterte Diskussionen über das Erlebte und den beeindruckenden Sichtungen von Walrössern und Eisbären.

Doch das Abenteuer hatte eine Fortsetzung, zeitgerecht erreichte die Silver Explorer die Insel Kvitoya und wir booteten neuerlich in 2 Gruppen die Gäste aus. Unser Schiff war von dichtem Treibeis umgeben, und die Abfahrt der Boote verzögerte sich etwas durch zusätzliche Sicherungsaktionen.

Neuerliche Sichtungen von Eisbären verhinderten ein direktes Anlanden, doch konnten drei Eisbären entweder schlafen, wandernd oder sogar am Ufer lauernd ausgiebig beobachtet werden. Alleine der Anblick der imposanten Eiskappe dieser Insel war ein Erlebnis und als wir zur Gletscher-Abbruchkante weiterfuhren entdeckten wir einen stark rauschenden Wasserfall, der sich aus dem Gletscher in das Meer ergoß.

Neuerlich endete ein Expeditions-Kreuzfahrtstag vollgefüllt mit unvergeßlichen Tiersichtungen, aber auch landschaftlichen Eindrücken, die durch ein mystisches Lichtspiel von abwechselnd dunklen und hellen Wolken verstärkt wurden.

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