''Expedition Svalbard'' Voyage 7117 Day 4

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Day 4 - August 5, 2011 - Lagoya Island, Svalbard

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

 

Co-ordinates: 80º 21.68’ N, 018º16.72’E
Weather: Overcast with moderate cold wind
Air Temperature: 0ºC


Today, our morning visit was to Lagoya Island up in the northwest of Svalbard. I love this place – it is certainly one of my favourites, because it is where one of my favourite animals is found – the walrus!

Lagoya, meaning ‘Low Island’, lies off the western coast of Nordaustland. It is, as the name implies, a flat island, which is why it is perfect for walrus to haul out and rest on the shoreside.

One of our scout boats went ashore early in the morning to see if there were, in fact, any walrus to be seen because reports from another ship that was there a day earlier had reported no walrus at all. But fortunately, the walrus were there, and we started disembarking guests at 7am.

Onshore there was a large group of about 45 walrus hauled out on the east side of the point. They were in a perfect spot and we could get some wonderful views of them. Unfortunately, we were also down wind, which meant we also got some wonderful smells of them! Phew! But these large marine mammals are so very entertaining and wonderful that no one minded.

To get to the walrus we crossed the sand spit and had to dodge a few nesting Arctic terns. I had to have a little giggle as I watched our guests walking across – each one with a raised hand in the air to deter these small feisty birds. But everyone made it without any trouble, and soon we were gathered a safe distance away, watching the antics of the herd.

Walrus haul-outs are a hive of intermittent activity. They can go for many minutes perfectly quiet – practically no movement, when suddenly, all commotion breaks out. It is usually caused by one walrus trying to shift position, and in doing so jostling the others nearby, which causes quite a stir as they all rise up, tusks raised in the air ready to do battle. There is a lot of grunting and bellowing, a little tusk jabbing, and a lots of blubber slapping. Then after a short while it all settles down again, until the next jostle.

Since the walrus are molting now, they must be very itchy, because there is almost always one or two that are on their backs scratching furiously by wriggling on the sand – very funny to see such large animals (up to a ton) wriggling around like a small dog.

After we were all back on the ship, the Captain relocated a few miles out to sea, and then the Expedition Team readied the Zodiacs for the next activity – the Arctic Polar Plunge! A brave 12 guests actually showed up to dive into 1ºC water from the Zodiac. I was one of the people in the Zodiac attaching the harnesses to the people diving and I love this job – the expressions of people as they rise to the surface in the icy waters is priceless!

After lunch, as the ship sailed further southeast through the Hinlopenstretet towards the Alkefjellet bird cliffs, a couple of the Expedition Team members gave lectures. Shoshanah Jacobs, our general naturalist, gave her lecture entitled “As the Murre Terns’ in which she describes her research work on guillemots in the Canadian Arctic. She had some very funny stories about life on remote islands. One story in particular, about a close encounter with a polar bear, had us all on the edge of our seats.

Later in the afternoon Juan Carlos Restrepo, our geologist, gave his lecture called ‘Geology Rocks’. This was a great introduction to all aspects of geology and gave us a wonderful overview of the geology of the region we were travelling through.

Immediately after Juan’s lecture, Robin West, our Expedition Leader, came on the loud speaker and told us that we were approaching the magnificent bird cliffs of Alkefjellet. These 100-meter-high doleritic (basaltic) cliffs towered over us as the Captain drifted along the cliff face, giving us incredible views. These cliffs are home to thousands of nesting guillemots, and it was certainly a site that we will never forget. Thousands of birds were crammed onto every available ledge, and thousands more were flying overhead like a swarm of mosquitoes.

It is always a mistake to think that dinner marks the end of a day on an expedition ship! Just when we had all settled in for a nice meal, the announcement comes that in fact there were three polar bears on the ice in front of the ship! There was a single bear hunkered down, and only about 100m away a mother and cub were feasting on a recent seal kill. As the ship drifted, surrounded by sea ice, we gathered on deck to watch these wonderful animals. At one point the bears got up and started to walk around. The single bear, in particular, gave us a great show – sauntering towards the ship, constantly sniffing the air as he went.

He eventually took up a new resting spot and was still sitting there when we moved on at about 11pm.

What a fantastic day – walrus, thousands of guillemots and polar bears! I’m looking forward to see what we find tomorrow!


Tag 4 | August 05, 2011 | Lagoya, Svalbard, Norwegen
Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Biologe

Koordinaten: 80°23’ N, 18°21’ E
Wetter: bewölkt
Luft Temperatur: 0° C


Es war ein sehr früher Morgen im Arktischen Meer, die Silver Explorer lag vor der Insel Lagoya vor Anker. Eine kleine unscheinbare Insel im Norden des Svalbard Archipels. Der Reiz und warum wir diese Insel besuchten sind die Walrosskolonien. Eine leichte frische brise wehte vom Norden her und die Lufttemperatur betrug 0°C. Um 7.30 Uhr begann die Ausschiffung für die erste Zodiacgruppe.

Diesmal hatten wir auch Glück, eine Herde mit circa 50 Walrossen lag gemütlich am Strand und genoss den Arktischen Sommer, zusätzlich schwammen einige Tiere im Wasser in Strandnähe. Meist bestehen die Gruppen hier Svalbard aus Männchen, Weibchen, die zu diesem Zeitpunkt ihre Jungen säugen, befinden sich mehr im Nordosten des Archipels oder in Richtung Franz-Josef Land.

Heute zeigte sich die Walross Gruppe sehr aktiv, einige kleinere Kommentkämpfe zwischen den Männchen um die besten Plätze in der Mitte der Gruppe brachten viel Bewegung in das Bild. Gleich in der Nähe unseres Beobachtungsstandortes, nistete eine Paar Küstenseeschwalben, etwas zu spät für diese Jahreszeit, denn das Weibchen saß noch auf den Eiern. Franz unser Ornithologe an Bord vermutete, dass es sich um ein zweites Gelege dieser Saison handelt, weil wahrscheinlich das erste Gelege, durch einen Räuber zerstört wurde.

Unsere Gäste genossen sichtlich diesen einmaligen Anblick einer Walrossherde dieser Größe, auch wenn der Duft, welcher ab und zu von der Herde mit dem Wind herübergetragen wurde alles andere als angenehm zu bezeichnen war. Natürlich musste ich als Botaniker auch auf die besondere Vegetation, Polarwüste, hinweisen. So war der Svalbard Mohn und der Zwergsteinbrech noch immer in Blüte und gaben der sonst eintönigen Landschaft einen gewissen Reiz. Auch die Flechtenflora auf den Steinen mit ihren orangen, gelblichen, grünen und grauen Farbtönen war ein wunderschöner Anblick. Ornithologisch zahlt sich Lagoya immer aus und so konnten wir neben der Dreizehenmöwe, Eismöwe auch das Thorshühnchen beobachten.

Zurück an Bord hatten unsere Gäste nicht lange Zeit zur Erholung. Der Polar Pulnge stand auf dem Programm. Zwölf mutige Gäste und 8 ebenso mutige Besaztungsmitglieder wagten den Sprung ins kühle Nass, bei einer Wassertemperatur von 1°C.

Nach diesem erfrischenden Programmpunkt ging es zur kulinarischen Erholung in das Restaurant.

Denn Nachmittag segelte die Silver Explorer hinunter in die Hinlopenstrasse mit Alkfejllet als Ziel. Kapitän Golubev fuhr das Schiff an die Felsen heran und unsere Gäste bekamen einen ausgezeichneten Eindruck von der ungeheuren Anzahl der Trottellummen, Dickschnabellummen, Eismöwen und Dreizehenmöwen die hier ihre Brutplätze haben. Am Höhepunkt der Brutsaison sollen bis zu 80.000 Brutpaare ihr Nistgeschäft hier betreiben. Der Wind blies aus der richtigen Richtung und so drifteten wir entlang der Klippen und genossen dieses ungewöhnliche Schauspiel.

Abgeschlossen wurde dieser Expeditionstag nicht nur mit einem kulinarischen Leckerbissen im Restaurant sonder auch mit einem „Naturleckerbissen“. Zwei adulte Eisbären und eine Mutter mit Jungen wurden auf dem Eis gesichtet. Über eine Stunde verbrachte das Expeditionsteam gemeinsam mit den Gäste auf den Aussendecks um diesen arktischen Traum zu beobachten.

 

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