Day 9 |
Jul 14, 2013

Bear Island, Svalbard

By Claudia Holgate, Climatologist

Co-ordinates: 74º21.8’ N, 019º09.6’ E
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 5ºC
Pressure: 1008 hPa
Wind: 12 knots

Bear Island is one of my favourite Zodiac cruises, and today was no exception. We lowered the boats and took our guests out for a 90-minute Zodiac ride that many will never forget. The sea conditions were choppy and made the ride quite bouncy and exciting, but the landscape was worth it.

Our first stop was at a cliff where Puffins are often found and indeed there they were sitting out on top of the rock for everyone to see. The Glaucous Gulls were all sitting to one side waiting for a gap in the thousands of birds flying around. They are the predators of the area and make a living off chicks and eggs of the nesting Guillemots and Kittiwakes.

As we rounded the first corner we were amazed by the noise emanating from the cliff faces as thousands of birds were flying above us and nesting cheek by jowl on the steep cliff faces. The limestone cliffs go up and up reaching 400m in some places and their sedimentary formations create the ideal nesting platforms for the birds. We saw some nesting Fulmars as well, but not in the same numbers as the Kittiwakes and Guillemots. The guests in my boat enjoyed watching the bridled guillemot with their delicate white eye ring that looks like they are wearing a pair of spectacles.

One of my favourite aspects of this cruise is taking the guests through caves that have been made in the limestone rocks, some of these can be a little scary, especially as the swell, current and narrow passage can make this an adrenaline rush for the driver and the guests. It is amazing though to go through one of these tunnels and come out to the light on the other side and hear all the noise that had been muted for the short time you were in the tunnel.

The spectacular landscape, with mist topped mountains and waterfalls coming down a few hundred metres, is breath taking. Cruising past the rusting remains of the Russian shipwreck the Petrozavodsk, a fishing vessel that ran aground about 4 years ago, made a good story to tell, as it disintegrates year on year against the rock face.

Soon we were back on the ship in time for lunch as we headed towards Tromso. Our afternoon activities began with Hans Peter, our botanist, giving a lecture on the Green Stuff of Svalbard, as he described some the 194 different plants one can find in Svalbard. This was followed by our executive chef, Christian giving a cooking demonstration. There was a call for whales as Humpback Whales were spotted and the captain manoeuvred the vessel so that everyone could get good view of these magnificent creatures.

Tea time brought with it team trivia, run by Rich and this was followed by my lecture on Climate change, the global carbon experiment. It was well attended and there was much interest, particularly as we have been seeing so many of the changes taking place in the Arctic on this trip.

Finally, and all too soon, we had the Captain’s farewell cocktail party. Can this really be the end of our cruise? We have had a fantastic voyage and it has all gone far too fast. Dinner was served - the farewell dinner is always a special meal. After dinner, drinks were enjoyed to the mellow music of Lou, and we are ready for bed to see what tomorrow brings.