Day 6 |
Jun 21, 2013

Kapp Lee & Sundneset, Svalbard

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: N 78°12,3’, E 021°0,9’
Weather: Overcast grey skies with fog
Air Temperature: 3ºC
Pressure: 1001 hPa
Wind: 1 knot

During the night we had sailed around the southern tip of Spitzbergen and come up the eastern side to get into some thick sea ice – a great spot for polar bears. Robin West, our expedition Leader, had the Expedition Team up on the Bridge at 5am, binoculars in hand, looking out for polar bears. About an hour into our 4-hour watch, Chris Srigley, one of our Bear Guards, spotted a polar bear walking on the ice.

But this bear was very shy, and continued walking away from us and into thicker ice where we could not follow with the ship. But soon again we spotted another few bears in the same general area. None really came close to the ship, but we had some great views of the bears walking on the ice and swimming from ice floe to ice floe. When they are swimming, with only their heads sticking up out of the water, they can be hard to follow since they look exactly like small floating icebergs!

At 8:30am, we decided to head over to our morning landing destination – Kapp Lee. This site is a known walrus haul-out, and sure enough there was a group of about 25 male walrus lying in a huddle on the beach.

The Expedition Team went ashore and started to flag a route to the walrus when our scout boat with Karolina Karas, our other Bear Guard, radioed in a sighting of a polar bear on the other side of the ridge from where we had landed. So, the landing was cancelled and we changed plans from a landing to a boat tour to look at the polar bear and the walrus from the safety of our zodiacs.

I really enjoy these zodiac cruises. There is just something really unique about floating in calm seas, surrounded with broken up bits of sea ice, with the fog rolling in around us, looking at a polar bear lying down on the distant ridge with walrus swimming in the waters nearby.

After a while, we cruised back around the corner to the walrus – and what great views! The group on shore was relatively active, jostling and grunting loudly as they shifted positions. The walrus on the outside of the group periodically vie for a new position closer to the centre where it is warmer.

But my favourite part of the tour was when three young male walrus appeared in the waters close to our zodiacs. They were very curious and swam straight towards my zodiac. Even when they went underwater you could see where they were by the large bow-waves that they push ahead of themselves. Sometimes, without warning, they pop up out of the water and raise their heads high to have a good look. Walrus do not have good eyesight and seem to squint as they try to figure out exactly what we are.

During lunch the ship relocated to Sundneset – a landing site that none of us have visited before, so we were all very excited to be heading there this afternoon.

We arrived at about 2:30pm and the Expedition Team headed ashore to explore and prepare for our guests. What a great place! There is a hut built in 1959 for the geo-scientific expedition led by a German geographer. It is still in good shape and we were able to have a quick look inside.

Farther up the tundra there are a couple of freshwater ponds that were still partially frozen over. We took the guests up to a high lookout point with a terrific view out over the landscape, and saw several small herds of reindeer that did not seem to mind our presence, and kept on grazing.

Unfortunately, just as the first group was leaving and we were standing by to take the next group ashore, the fog rolled in reducing the visibility so much so that we had to cancel the landing – we were unable to keep a safe lookout for polar bears.

Even now, as I write the log, the sea fog is heavy, as we slowly sail towards our next destination.