Day 12 |
Aug 12, 2012

Franz-Josef-Land: Rubini Rock, Tikhaya Bay & Champ Island

By Michaela Mayer, marine biologist

Co-ordinates: N 80º19'57", E 52º47'36"
Weather: fog
Air Temperature: 0.3ºC
Pressure: 996 hPa
Wind: 2 knots

I got up at 6:00 in order to get ready before we entered the bay at Hooker Island. At 6:30 am I accessed the forecastle where three colleagues from the Expedition Team joined me. Only shortly later the first guests showed up and before we totally reached the bird cliffs, the outer decks were very busy.

Rubini Rock in Tikhaya Bayis is an impressive rock formation with its partly intricate surface structures of curved basalt columns, which gain even more attraction by stark additional color contrasts due the bright lichens and lush green summer vegetation in less steep parts. Moreover, it harbours the biggest assembly of nests of mostly Brunnich's guillemots and Kittiwakes (in addition black guillemots, glaucous gulls, and others) of all breeding colonies of the Franz-Josef-Land archipelago.

Spectacular! Thousands of birds came and flew away from their nests. In the surrounding waters waited juvenile Brunnich's guillemots for their breakfast given by their fathers. The chicks of the Brunnich's guillemot jump into the sea before they are able to fly, and are there further raised and fed by the male guillemot.

At a certain point at the Rubini Rock I thought I could touch the nests with my arm. The rocks go as deep and steep into the sea as they look above the level, and so the Captain could maneuver the Silver Explorer very close.

Suddenly one of our four Russian bear guards spotted an adult Polar bear on the same land where we planned to go ashore. The first bear of our voyage stood in the middle of a green slope and it looked if it was grazing on plants. He didn't really move or walk so we could do our landing as planned. Of course our bear guards and the Expedition Leader had a permanent eye on the bear to react in case it came closer to us.

We visited the old station of Tikhaya Bay, which was abandoned in late fifties of the last century. I was more interested in the Little Auk rookery above the station than in the historic memorials or remains of the station inhabitants. However, when some guests stumbled into a dead Polar Bear in the station area I had a look, too. Poor guy, it looked skinny and had obviously died by starvation.

After that landing we had the great opportunity to do a Zodiac cruise to Rubini Rock. We came as close to the fantastic bird cliffs as the distance of my arm! On the way back to the Silver Explorer I was very happy that I had my GPS navigation with me, as the fog become very thick and the ship was not visible from the other side of the bay. This was the morning...

After lunch I hurried into my suite to prepare a recap, which took place at 2:30pm. At 5pm we started the landing at Champ Island. This place is very famous because of its egg-shaped stones. These stone are an almost unique phenomenon, even on world scale. At Cape Triest where we landed, numerous geodes of all sizes can be found higher up on the slope, still partly stuck in the crumbing rock faces. Geodes are nothing unusual in principle; small ones are quite common in many places, not necessarily round. But we saw today the world's largest.

When we had the Zodiacs back on board I met with my friends from the Expedition Team in the crew mess before getting some rest after a great day.