Day 3 |
Jun 28, 2013

Bear Island

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer, Master Mariner

Co-ordinates: 74º 22' N, 019º 14' E
Weather: Fog early, then cleared to brilliant, warm sun
Air Temperature: 10ºC
Pressure: 1010 hPa
Wind: 10 knots

If you asked just about any one of the Expedition Team members where they would like to zodiac cruise in the Arctic, Bear Island would always be on the top of their list. Imagine kilometer after kilometer of sheer, rocky cliffs rising steeply out of the sea and taller than any 10-story office building. That would be spectacular. Now populate those cliffs and this island with one million nesting seabirds as the wheel about the sky in great flocks, nesting on every possible square centimeter and covering large portions of the ocean in huge rafts.

Next, place this amazing island in the remote, high Arctic that is rarely visited by anyone. Add to this some enormous sea caves through which our zodiacs can cruise as well as 100-meter tall waterfalls cascading down into the sea. All that and so much more is the privilege of getting into our relatively small zodiacs and cruising in one of the most beautiful, exotic and amazing locations that you could ever hope to see. Every possible niche is covered with life struggling to survive in this harsh environment.

One new highlight this year was some of the first sightings in history of nesting Northern Gannets, a species normally found much further south in mainland Europe. So far we are not sure if this will be the beginning of a permanent colony or something else entirely. However, as a scientist, it is fabulous to be part of this discovery, which had been completely unexpected.

Normally weather and other conditions require us to immediately head north towards the main archipelago of Svalbard. But in this case the current weather is quite good in addition to the forecast. Therefore, our Expedition Leader tried something bold and received last minute approval for us to visit the 12 person Norwegian Weather and Scientific Research Station located on the Northern Coast of Bear Island.

We quickly reconfigured our schedule and everyone went ashore for an unanticipated additional. The main point of interest for most people was a closer and longer look at Puffins nesting along the sea cliffs. We had seen them this morning but at somewhat of a greater distance.

Of course it was also wonderful to meet other scientists and see how people also survive in this remote place with no airport. There were even a few husky dogs living in much smaller accommodations but still with their name across the door. We also had a chance to observe the oldest building in Svalbard, dating back to 1822.

All in all, a great day filled with life and unexpected surprises!