Co-ordinates: 77°33.171’, 015°03.991’
Weather: Overcast but bright skies
Air Temperature: 8C
Sea Temperature: 5C
Wind: 5 knots
Our first day on expedition! Robin West, our Expedition Leader, made a wake-up call at about 0700am announcing that the Prince Albert II had sailed up Van Keulenfjorden fjord and was anchored off our first landing site – Bamsebu. The scout boats headed out first to scout the area to make sure it was safe from polar bears, and then disembarkation was to begin at 0800am.
Bamsebu is a very historic location – it is an old whaling site that has been used on and off since the 1600s by many different nationalities. It is most noted for the recent whaling episode of the 1930s when the site was used for beluga whale hunting. The remains of this period include an old hut called “Bamsebu” – Norwegian for “Bear Hut” – a lookout post and piles of Beluga whale bones on the beach (an estimated 550 skeletons in total).
This fjord was a perfect location for Beluga whale hunting because it has a narrow entrance so that once the whales were inside the fjord, the whalers would stretch a seine net across the exit/entrance opening, herd the whales into the net, drag it back to shore and kill the whales for their blubber, which was boiled down into oil that was used primarily for lamp oil.
This morning was the guests’ first time in the Zodiacs, and thankfully the sea conditions were beautiful – calm and smooth. The landing was on a pebble beach, and as each Zodiac arrived, the guests headed off on a guided walk with a member of the Expedition Team.
Since there were some reports from other ships of polar bears in the general area, we restricted the walking to the area immediately adjacent to the beach – close enough to get everyone back to the Zodiacs in case of a bear sighting. We also had our specialist Bear Guards standing high up on lookout points, and two lookouts in Zodiacs cruising up and down the coast.
The guided walks were a lot of fun. I started the tour at the hut and pointed out all the special features for protecting it from bear attacks – large logs leaning at an angle to prevent the bears from leaning onto the hut, and sharp nails sticking out from the inside to keep the bears from placing their paws on the walls.
I also pointed out the vast diversity of plants found in the tundra and explained how they all have special adaptations for capturing as much heat as possible to help them grow and reproduce in the short summers of the arctic.
I also pointed out the series of ‘raised beaches’ to my guests. These are ancient beachfronts formed as the island, that was once nearly 100m lower due to the weight of the ice during the last ice age, started to ‘rebound’ as the ice melted.
Once back on board, Robin West announced our plans for the afternoon – we were going to relocate the ship farther up the fjord in attempts to find a polar bear that had been reported by another expedition ship. We all gathered out on deck to watch the beautiful, small icebergs float by, and were rewarded with a few seal sightings. Except fog soon moved in and the Captain turned the ship. However, the fog cleared just in time for us to enter another branch of the fjord and approach the Recherchebreen (“Research Glacier”). This was a beautiful glacier with a defined terminal moraine in front.
Suddenly, one of the Expedition Team announced that there was a Polar Bear on an ice floe in front of the glacier. Well…there was a bear, but it was so far away that it was a mere dot in the binoculars! But we did our best – we set up the scope for a better view and most of us caught a glimpse of it. So…technically – it was our first Polar Bear of the trip! But hopefully not the last!
In the evening we all gathered in The Theatre for the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party, which was followed by the Captain’s Welcome Dinner in The Restaurant. We all had a wonderful time meeting the other guests and laughing about the ‘bear spotting’!