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Day 4 - August 5, 2010 - Kapp Lee, Edgeoya, Svalbard

By Franz Gingele, Geologist

Co-ordinates: 78°05’N, 020°46’E (Noon position)
Weather: Foggy in the morning, overcast, but clearing in the afternoon
Air Temperature: +3°C
Pressure: 1011 hp
Wind: calm

Today we were looking forward to our arrival in Svalbard proper, after our fantastic Zodiac cruise yesterday afternoon at Bear Island.

In the morning we were still cruising north through foggy weather so there was no rush to get up early. We fortified ourselves with an extended breakfast and were well prepared for the morning’s lecture sessions. One of our onboard geologist, Juan Carlos Restrepo, started at 10:00 a.m. with his lecture “Earth, What Lies Below…” a general introduction to the mysterious world of geology. He explained the basic terminology and concepts we need to understand the geological features we will encounter on our journey. He also gave us a rundown on the origin of the Earth, types of rocks, the internal structure of the planet and plate tectonics.

At 11:00 a.m. all the guests who sailed the first time aboard the Prince Albert II met in The Theatre for a “First-timers Cocktail Party”.

At 11:45 our onboard photographer Kristine Hannon shared her compositional and technical expertise for landscape and wildlife photography with us in her lecture “Getting Started”.

By the time she finished we had sailed up Storfjorden and reached our destination at Kapp Lee on the western side of Edgeøya. Our plans were to go ashore and stretch our legs on a small tundra walk to look at the Arctic landscape and possibly find some walrus on the beach.

As we approached our anchorage we made radio contact with another expedition ship, the Hanse Explorer, which had just finished its activities in the area. The crew confirmed our hopes that there were walrus on the beach, but unfortunately the walrus were not the only big mammals in the area. They were supervised by a polar bear sitting on the dolerite cliff above the beach and another bear was roaming in the area. A quick scan with binoculars from the Bridge confirmed the presence of the bears. Again we had to change our plans and opted for a Zodiac cruise.

After a quick lunch we took to the boats. That was easier said than done, because the sea in the open stretch of water between Spitzbergen and Edgeøya was rather choppy. But with the help of our able crewmembers on the platform we all made it into the boats. We were heading for a sheltered bay behind a rocky spit. It took a while to reach the bay since we were driving slowly and quietly not to scare the bear or the walrus away.

Once in the bay we spotted a white spot on top of the coastal cliffs. It looked more like somebody had dropped an old white rug on top of the dark rocks. But suddenly the rug turned into a bear by lifting its head and we could celebrate our first bear sighting! The bear was spread out on the rocks and it looked rather skinny after a long hungry summer. The early disappearance of sea ice in the area has made life hard for the polar bear population.

From the water the bear was watched by the walrus on duty and more walruses were hauled out on the nearby beach next to some wooden huts. The huts were old trapper’s huts, but they were still maintained and occasionally used by scientists. The walrus on the beach didn’t move around much. They gave us only an occasional glance even when we motored quietly closer to get a better view. They didn’t seem to be worried by the presence of the polar bear either. Probably they knew that only a very desperate bear would dare to attack a fully-grown walrus. The outcome of such an encounter would be hard to predict with even chances for the bear and the walrus.

After watching for a good hour we quietly made our way back to the ship to meet for the recap and discuss the experiences of the day. Dinner was well attended, but many of us turned in very soon after because tomorrow, another long and exciting expedition day, is waiting for us.

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