Having just returned to the Prince Albert II at the beginning of the trip, every visit we make is my first in a year. Each morning I awake with the excitement of a first-time visitor to the area… what will be here?
By the time I turn off my alarm, we have entered Bellsund and are making for Van Keulenfjorden and our first stop of the day – Bamsebu.
Entering the bridge, I find our safety officer on watch and I inquire about any wildlife sightings they may have had during the last few hours. To get me going he tries, as usual, to tell me there were hundreds of whales just before I arrived. Some with Polar Bears attached to their backs!
The area we are visiting this morning happens to have been an early whaling area for Beluga, which was used right up until the 1930s. In the earliest times, the whalers had a lookout up on the hill who would signal that he had spotted the whales and they would head out in their boats for the hunt. In the latter years, they had devised a much easier method of catching the Beluga. Once the whales had been spotted heading out of the fjord, they would tighten a net across the entrance thus ensnaring them before pulling them into shore to be rendered. The beach we are landing on in fact is called “Kvitfiskstranda” (“White whale beach”). On its shores there are several piles of Beluga bones said to be the remains of some of 400 + Beluga caught here.
Before joining Christian Walter onshore to help lead a natural history walk, I shuttle several Zodiac loads of guests to the beach. Anchoring, I catch up with Christian as we point out the highlights of the area. Besides the early history of Bamsebu, there are plenty of things to see. Reindeer wander amongst the tundra plants grazing on the various flowers and grasses. Along the shores we are able to spot several Purple Sandpipers wading in the tidal pools, Arctic Skuas nesting on the tundra as well as chasing off anything that comes within 20 meters of their nests, Barnacle Geese with their young wading in the fresh water ponds and many species of flora. Along the way we were able to spot, Tufted Cinquefoil, Purple Saxifrage, Tufted Saxifrage, Drooping Saxifrage and the interesting Wolly and Hairy Louseworts, just to name a few. For over an hour and a half we weaved across the tundra eventually making it back to the landing sight where I hopped back into the Zodiac to shuttle our guests from the first group back to the ship before returning to shore with the next group. As the morning progressed, the winds picked up and added an extra chill to an already overcast day.
After our next walk, we headed back to the Prince Albert II to enjoy some well-deserved lunch and to warm up as the ship made its way farther into the fjord towards our afternoon’s activity, a planned Zodiac cruise along the fronts of Nathortsbreen and Doktorbreen, the two glaciers at the head of the fjord.
After lunch, along with the rest of the Expedition Team, I boarded a Zodiac in preparation for our tour. As the boats were lowered, our Expedition Leader Conrad placed us in twos to make sure that we were always in the vicinity of another Zodiac. In these remote areas, you can never be too safe.
What a sight before us, stretched out as far as the eye could see was the ice being pushed out from the surging Nathorstbreen. As an unusual amount of melt-water lubricates between the ground and the bottom of the glacier, it surges forward at much greater speeds than it usually would, possibly moving several kilometres a year.
As I worked my way along the ice edge, we were able to see wonderful examples of glacial topography. This was an extremely impressive sight, leaving us all a little short on words.
With all of the dirty ice surrounding us, our eyes began to play tricks as we searched for seals amongst the floes. At one point I almost cruised right past a Bearded seal while looking straight at it! Luckily, I spotted it before we got too close and we were able to drift quietly past. Before this we had spotted Kittiwakes, Brunnich’s Guillemot, and Ivory Gulls but no seals. Just as I called on the radio to the others to inform them what I had found, there were calls coming over the radio about a Ringed seal who was curious enough to approach the Zodiacs for an inspection of the strange objects with the red coats!
For myself, it was another perfect day in Svalbard, and judging by the smiles on everyone’s faces, I would have to say they all agreed!