Day 10 |
Jul 23, 2009


By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist Lecturer

Co-ordinates: 78°27.158’ N, 011°53.808’E

Weather: Sunny & calm seas

Air Temperature: 5C

Wind: 10 knots

Another beautiful, sunny day in the Arctic! I love days like this – the snow on the surrounding dark-coloured mountain peaks is so bright that it appears to be glowing.

The ship spent the morning sailing down from the northern side of Svalbard where we had the most amazing polar bear encounter with a mom and her cub. While at sea, Juan Restrepo, the geologist onboard, finished the lecture series with a lecture entitled “The Life and Death of Glacier Ice”. Juan introduced us to the world of glaciers, explaining the different types and how they form, and how they carve the landscape into magnificent scenery.

Later in the morning, the Expedition Team held the Recap & Briefing that had originally been scheduled for the night before, but was cancelled because we were all out on the Zodiacs watching the polar bears. It was a great recap, with all the Expedition Team members getting up to discuss their specialties. I showed some photos of the mother polar bear nursing the cub (from the evening before) and explained about their reproductive strategies, Chris Collins, the birder, talked a bit more about the auks (a family of birds common here in the Arctic), Hans Peter Reinthaller, the botanist, explained all about Arctic food webs, Juan Restrepo (geologist) explained where all the driftwood comes from (it floats all the way from Siberia!!!), Claudia Holgate, our climatologist, explained about the ozone and the holes that form over the polar regions, and last, but not least, Christian Walter highlighted the different architectural ‘houses’ used by early explorers to survive up here (many upturned their boats to make shelters from the cold).

Robin West then highlighted the options for the afternoon’s landing at Poolepynten – a site best known for the herds of male walrus that haul-out there.

After the Recap & Briefing, the guests went to lunch and then to prepare for the afternoon landing, while I hurried to get ready to jump into a Zodiac and drive. We had the first group ashore by just after 2pm and they headed off with the Expedition Team to walk the few hundred meters to the walrus haul-out site on the beach. As expected, there were more than a dozen male walrus huddled in a large ‘clump’. They didn’t even budge as we approached and took up our viewing position. Occasionally one of the bulls would shift position and cause a general stirring among the mob, but soon the activity would die back down and they would fall asleep again.

In the water, however, there was a bit more activity – a couple of small groups of 3-4 walruses were swimming just offshore. So, we gathered the group together and loaded up the Zodiacs and went on a Zodiac tour to see the walrus in the water.

These are such amazing animals – you really don’t understand how large they are until one emerges from the water and they rise up tall. Some of these dominant males must have been 1.5 tons or more!! And of course, the most striking features are the large tusks that reach a couple feet long.

We had a great time in the Zodiac – I told my guests all about the amazing adaptations that walrus have acquired to survive in the cold Arctic waters, and how they feed mainly on small clams that they find on the seafloor. During one feeding a single walrus needs to eat somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 of these clams – in ONE feeding!!!

All guests were back on board in time for dinner and some last minute packing. It was hard to believe that the cruise was over already! But what a cruise – we saw five different polar bears, bearded seals, ringed seals, walrus, over 25 species of birds, many beautiful glaciers, and crossed up over the 80 degree mark. Thank you to all the guests who shared this cruise with me and making it one of the best cruises I have had so far up here in the Arctic!!!