Day 4 |
Jul 27, 2009

Bamsebu, Van Kaujlenfjord, Svalbard

By Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 78º27,0 N, 011º52,2 E

Weather: sunny, slightly overcast in the afternoon

Flexibility. That’s the most important word on an expedition cruise and today this was one of those days where flexibility was sought-after. Waking up at 4:30am, our first excursions were planned for 5:30am at Bamsebu just by the entrance of the van Keulenfjorden. Bright sunshine dipped the landing bay in fabulous light and all our guests were eager even at this time of the day to go shoreside and have a nice walk around this important historical place were 550 skeletons of beluga whales remind us of the principal reason humans came up to this remote place in former centuries.

But the graveyard of the white belugas is not the only interesting point to see here. A beautiful and easy walk over the tundra gives us a first impression of plant life in this archipelago. Small, generally creeping on the ground, or growing in tufts this is the main appearance of plants in the tundra. But their wonderful white, purple, yellow and pink flowers compensate completely for the unspectacular picture of the tundra vegetation.

At 5:00am the first scout boats were sent out and shortly afterwards the message came over the radios “3 Polar Bears shoreside”. Of course land excursions were canceled and some minutes later it was clear that we had one female Polar Bear with two last year cubs near our landing site. Actually they were lying around on top of a nearby ridge dozing in the morning sun of Spitzbergen.

My colleagues Claudia Holgate and Chris Collins set up their telescopes so that our guests had nearly a life-size view of the bears. My other colleagues and I were outside on the decks pointing and explaining to the guests where they could find “these 3 lazy bears”. To get even a closer look at them, our Captain turned the vessel around and entered the small bay as far as it was possible.

As the bears didn’t really pay much attention to the curious spectators, at around half past six, the Prince Albert II left Bamsebu and sailed on to our next destination: Poolepynten – the famous walrus haul-out on Prins Karls Forland.

Naturally, all scheduled lectures changed this morning, flexibility is the catchword, and I had the lecture on “The Flora of Svalbard” at 9:30am. Due to the very early morning call, only about 35 guests showed up in The Theatre for the presentation, which dealt with the flora and flowers of the archipelago, and their ecology, as well as how in former times they colonized this remote place. At 11am, my colleague Rob Suisted presented his lecture on photography.

Around midday, the Prince Albert II reached Poolepynten. The first Zodiac groups were to go out at 14.00 and ashore we switched the groups. One group did first the Zodiac tour to see the walruses from and in the water; the other group approached them by land walking along the shore and always keeping enough distance to the breeding site of the Arctic Terns. Just 25m away from the hut on Poolepynten, a group of about 15 walruses tightly packed were lying on the beach, stretching out their massive bodies in the sand and sun. Sometimes grunting, scratching parts of the body with their flips and then rolling over to the other side just to fall “asleep” again and as it might seem to an observer having “sweet dreams of the walrus paradise”.

As their skin was moulting, the walruses were scratching themselves wherever there was a chance to get rid of the old skin. Gravel on the beach was as good as was their flipper or even their neighbor. From time to time, one of them decided to have a cool “shower” and went into the sea surely looking out for food on the sea bottom.

This way, the afternoon in Poolepynten passed by in scratching, grunting, feeding and sleeping. Our guests enjoyed the visit to the walrus haul-out very much, observing these, on one hand funny but on the other hand so well adapted, animals in their natural environment.

The third day finished with Recap & Briefing done by my colleagues Robin Aiello, Chris Srigley, Claudia Holgate, Juan Carlos Restrepo, Rob Suisted and our Expedition Leader Robin West. At the end of the briefing, the Captain spoke, inviting guests to visit the Bridge should they wish to learn more about the navigation of the Prince Albert II. He explained that visitors were always welcome.