Day 5 - June 30, 2013 - Today’s Port en route between Kapp Lee and Diskobukta, Edgeøya, Svalbard
By Luke Kenny, Fisheries Biologist
Co-ordinates: 78° 02’ N, 20° 43’ E
Weather: Mist/thick fog
Air Temperature: 4°C
The ship’s anchor drops into the glossy waters that stretch as far as the eye can see; perhaps 100 metres at most. Fog! It’s quiet as if all are waiting for something to emerge from the misty white curtain that veils all. The sea and the sky are united in a certain indistinct and pervading existence. No tangible object is visible to determine where exactly we are in space.
From the Zodiac, the gently rolling waters have a hypnotic effect. I gaze at the oil-like smoothness without truly focusing on it, until I am rudely awakened from my reverie by a radar reflector being passed into my boat. It’s an added precaution, so that the mother-ship can track us in case our GPS unit (and spare batteries) fail.
Chris Srigley, one of our two bear guards joined me in my Zodiac and we picked up our guests and made our way towards the shore, somewhere lost in the foggy edges of this world. Bear guards are always needed even on Zodiac tours in case a boat develops a technical problem and drifts towards shore, though today I will be in close proximity to all the other Zodiacs so should a problem arise I could be quickly towed away to safety.
Our target emerged from the fog. On a shallow sloping sand beach in front of three old wooden huts was a pod of walruses. Walrus viewing requires patience. They are considerably inactive. Often they lie around and do nothing for extended periods of time and only reward onlookers with the odd snort and scratch with a flipper. Initially they were true to form, however, by the second Zodiac tour, two had taken to the water and rolled around there, occasionally thrusting a tusked-head skyward before gliding along the coast, past the eider ducks and wailing Arctic terns.
The mist continued to swirl and boil as we proceeded south down the coast of Edgeøya, to the open bay of Diskobukta. From the bridge, Chris spotted a rock in the shape of a polar bear on a hill above the northern side of the bay. A scout boat confirmed that it was indeed a bear and as such we could no longer land to offer the scheduled hike. Instead we took to the Zodiacs for another cruise to allow our guests to get a view of the creature. Unfortunately the distance the bear reposed from the shoreline coupled with the fog left the first group with a disappointing view. The second group faired worse, for the fog descended in force. My Zodiac full of guests took it all in good humour, looking forward to the days to come when no doubt we will have more chances of seeing this formidable predator in its natural environment.
The ship remained at anchor for an hour or two, in the hope that the fog might lift. In the meantime I went to The Theatre to listen to Robin Aiello, our Marine Biologist, who was lecturing on polar bears. On these busy Arctic trips, lectures are squeezed in wherever possible, often when we are repositioning or changing our plans at the last minute.
This cruise has a sizeable group of Swiss onboard, from both the German and French speaking parts. Occasionally, when the numbers suffice, Silversea offers Recap and Briefings as well as lecture materials in languages other than English. As such, we are offering Recaps and Briefings in both French and German. Kara Weller (Expedition Leader), Juan Carlos (Geologist), Hans Peter (Botanist) and Rapa Nui (Historian) are our skilled multi-linguists when it comes to presenting such information, and of course Tim (Assistant Expedition Leader) contributes further when it comes to organising groups at the sidegate.
The language inept, myself included, each take turns in presenting material from our area of expertise with translation help from the multi-linguists so that the German and French speakers get a varied dosage of educational matter. This evening, I presented some information on several commercially important fish species from this region, all of which guests have had the opportunity to eat over the last few days.
The ship steamed east through Freemansundet, a narrow strait between Barentsøya to the north and Edgeøya to the south before turning northwards towards Nordaustland and Bråsvellbreen, the southwest corner of the Austfonna ice cap. As we proceeded through the strait a strange bright disk burned through the thick cloud. The sun!!! It seemed such a rare treat after two mist and fog-filled days and everyone’s spirits soared at the sight of the nearby land glowing under the bright light. May it bode well for the ‘morrow.
10:50 pm – I had just saved a draft of this log on the office computer when a mother polar bear and her two-year old cub were sighted from the bridge. The mother was leading her cub on a swim through the much broken ice pack, looking no doubt for the more solid pack ice that offers a stable platform and a profitable hunting ground. The low sun cast a warm bright light over the icescape and both deck 4 forward and deck 6 were thronged with red parkas when the bears took a brief break on an ice floe, instinctively rolling on the snow surface to dry off the excess seawater. Cameras clicked and ice cracked. All the ship’s eyes strained forward, eager to satisfy their appetite for these magnificent creatures. Magnificent they may be, but I couldn’t help but reflect on the frailty of their existence, the struggle for survival very evident before our eyes as the black nose and dark soulful eyes of the mother, just above the water, hoped to lead her offspring to better things.
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