Day 6 |
Jul 17, 2008

Russebukta, Edgeoya Island, Svalbard

By Tony Huntley, Biologist

77° 30.25’N, 20° 57.51’E

It was a slow morning. Once again the sea was glassy calm; the air was still. The temperature was a very cool 3° C. The low temperature pushed the relative humidity up and an eerie mist surrounded the ship as we headed into The Restaurant for breakfast. Still reeling from yesterday’s incredible polar bear encounter, we openly wondered what today held for us. The ship was heading to Russebukta, a small point of land on the southwest of the island of Edgeoya. Edgeoya is a somewhat star-shaped island in the southeast part of the Svalbard archipelago. It is the third largest island and part of the Søraust Svalbard Naturresrvat, a strictly regulated natural preserve. Today, Edgeoya is uninhabited. In the past, it was primarily exploited for whales, walrus and polar bears by Russian hunters who often over-wintered there. The island was first mapped in 1612, sixteen years after Barents discovered the Svalbard coast. The island’s name derives from an English whaler named Thomas Edge.

After breakfast, while were cruised to Russebukta, our geologist, Juan Carlos Restrepo, delivered an information-packed lecture on “Glacier Ice”. Juan explained that most glaciers, while very old, are constantly being formed and destroyed. He showed us how glaciers move and alter the landforms. He showed us how glaciers retreat and advance and explained the formation of sediment around these glaciers known as “moraines”. By the conclusion of his lecture, it was clear that we would have to look very closely at these unique structures.

Just before lunch, the Prince Albert II arrived at Russebukta. Expedition leader Conrad Combrink, our bear guards Geir and Jan, ornithologists Dick Filby and Brent Stephenson, naturalist Chris Srigley, Assistant Expedition Leader Esther Bruns, Staff assistant Daniil Eltermans and myself, all climbed down a pilot ladder into Zodiacs on a mission to scout the shoreline for an appropriate landing site. The weather had cleared slightly, with intermediate cloud cover, good visibility and a temperature of 5° C. While the scouting took place, most of the guests headed into The Restaurant to enjoy lunch.

Meanwhile, on the island, we found a landing site and went ashore on a low rocky outcrop. It was immediately decided that we should walk west to a hilltop area about 700 m away. From there, a very good view of the tundra and lake-covered landscape could be seen. As we were discussing the various aspects of a safety perimeter and the natural history walks that would take place, Dick Filby said, “I think there’s a bear over there.” Indeed, upon closer inspection, a medium sized Polar bear was about 1 Km to the west on a flat tundra plain. As we watched, the bear turned and walked towards us. Geir suggested that we return to the Zodiacs, a suggestion that was already being heeded by all. Following a rapid run across the soft tundra, most of the team jumped into the Zodiacs. Geir and Jan followed with the bear only a minute behind. As the Zodiacs pulled away from the shore, the bear paced and sniffed and sat watching the team. Then the bear walked east along the coast to the point where the lifejackets were still resting on the beach. He wandered up the hill to the site of an old reindeer kill, where he chewed on a bit of jerky and tossed a limb into the air. Finally, he headed off onto the rocky outcrop. At this time, Geir went onto the island briefly to retrieve the lifejackets. As they returned to the ship, the bear was seen hunting geese on the outcrop. Obviously our “ice bear” was hungry and thought the shore party might provide some sustenance. Obviously, our landing here was cancelled due to overly interested residents.

In the afternoon, Christian Walter discussed the role of European exploration in the formation of the world as we know it today.

At recap, Conrad gave an explanation of the bear incident with many pictures. The overwhelming opinion: this was a landing that we were glad to give up!