Relatively calm seas, fog, and no early call for Zodiac excursions or landings gave a good excuse to sleep in, relax and enjoy a late breakfast on our second day. Despite the fact that no announcements were made for lectures, 26 interested guests showed up for Dr. Brent Stephenson’s “Birding 101: An Introduction to Tweetie-Birds and the Weird People That Watch Them”. After Brent’s statement that “birding can be as relaxed or as challenging as you want”, one could almost feel a communal sigh of relief – finally, a “normal” birder! Brent gave a few hints on how to use binoculars and field-guides, and encouraged us to join a club or birding society. He then showed us pictures of the birds we would most probably see during our expedition to Svalbard.
The next lecture was given by Camille Seaman, our onboard photographer. First, she explained her 9 rules for good pictures. When humpback whales were seen at 11:15 a.m., while the lecture was still in progress, everyone was given a chance to practice the rules for half an hour. Captain Uli Demel maneuvered the Prince Albert II closer to the whales, but at first there was no cooperation from the animals’ side. Later, more whales were seen, and were approached. This time they could be seen much closer – a nice start for our marine mammal encounters.
Following lunch, Dr. Tony Huntley was the next speaker and his topic “What is a Marine Mammal” not only gave a good overview of what to expect, but was also quite entertaining, as he proceeded to change me into a marine mammal by, among other things, having me add several layers of protection, add more blood, and change my vision and respiration. One of the surprising facts of Tony’s talk was that marine mammals had evolved out of a dog-like animal in Pakistan slightly more than 10 million years ago.
The final lecture/briefing was given by Conrad Combrink, Expedition leader; Tony; Stefan; and Geir, one of our bear guides. It covered tomorrow’s plans, the AECO (Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) guidelines for correct behavior ashore, and bear tactics.
At the “Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party” Captain Demel welcomed all guests, and introduced his senior officers. A bottle of Dom Perignon Vintage 2000 was offered to the first bear spotter, hoping that 99 pairs of eyes would help our bear-guides to spot a polar bear tomorrow morning. Who could have possibly resisted caviar, Maine lobster and chocolate treats for dessert at the Captain’s Welcome Dinner? Afterwards, a group of guests enjoyed Daryl’s music and a final cocktail before retiring to their suites, anticipating an exciting expedition day in Hornsund tomorrow.