Co-ordinates: 74o21’41N, 19o09’56’E
Weather: Foggy but mild
Air Temperature: 4.2oC
Wind: 62km/h North Westerly
Today we arrived at Bear Island, South of Spitsbergen and the southernmost part of the Svalbard archipelago. The Island was discovered in 1595 by William Barentsz where they apparently saw a polar bear, after which the island is named. The island has huge cliffs, which are the home to thousands of nesting seabirds, making this one of the largest nesting colonies in the northern hemisphere.
This island is also the edge of the polar front, which results in upwellings of nutrients and fish and also means that very often the whole area is shrouded in fog. Today was to be one of those days. However, we are on the Prince Albert II where we don’t let a bit of sea fog spoil our day; we were going for a zodiac cruise regardless of the weather.
The Zodiacs were lowered into the water where there was a big swell, forcing the Captain to position the ship to provide the Zodiac drivers with a lee to enable the guests to get onto the Zodiacs safely.
Once loaded, we were off into the ghostly mist to see the birds that we could smell and hear. Bear Island is known for its Common Guillemot colony, which, at its height, reached 245, 000 breeding pairs, but unfortunately dropped to only 37,000 pairs due to the collapse of many of the fish stocks.
The swell was huge but our trusty little Zodiacs handled the conditions well, perhaps better than some of the guests who were feeling decidedly queasy by the end of the tour. The birds, however, were fantastic, with great views of Common and Brunnich’s Guillemot, Razorbills, Great Black Backed Gulls eating some unfortunate Kittiwake, nesting Atlantic Puffins and Glaucous Gulls.
The scenery was spectacular with 500m cliffs rising above us, with beautiful striations and folding, creating a geological wonderland that could excite everyone, not just Juan, our geologist. The waves had formed caves and archways that we could go through and see some Kittiwakes making use of the shelter for their five-star nesting sites.
The morning’s activities went without a hitch despite the lumpy seas and fog and everyone had a great time before coming back onto the ship for another delectable buffet for lunch. The afternoon was at sea on our way South again and two lectures were given.
The first lecture, by myself, was on the Ozone hole. I discussed how the thinning of the Ozone layer was discovered and the cause of the ozone destruction, namely Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs were banned by the Montreal Protocol and now the Ozone layer is recovering, with a full recovery expected by 2050.
In between lectures, our wildlife spotters, Chris Collins and Chris Srigley, were working very hard on the Bridge and managed to find White Beaked Dolphins bow riding the ship and a huge whale, probably a fin whale, blowing quite far out from the ship.
Robyn Aiello gave a fascinating talk later on the adaptations of birds to their environment, giving us amazing facts on everything from feeding adaptations to flight adaptations. An hour break and we were back in The Theatre for our final Recap & Briefing. “Can it really be nearly over?” Well, best enjoy the great food and company and get ready for a super busy day tomorrow.