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Day 6 - July 11, 2013 -  Kvitøya, Svalbard 

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

 

Co-ordinates: N 80°5.0’ E 031°25,7’
Weather: Overcast & foggy
Air Temperature: 0ºC
Pressure: 1000 hPa
Wind: 7 knots

Today, the morning was spent at sea as the Silver Explorer headed north to Kvitoya – a small island to the far north east of Spitsbergen.

The first activity of the morning was a lecture from our ornithologist Richard Pagen entitled “Poised to Profit from Pelagic Productivity”. In this talk Rich recapped many of the birds that we had seen so far on this journey and told about their behaviours and roles in the ecosystem.

After lunch the ship arrived at our destination – Kvitoya. By 2pm all the zodiacs were lowered and ready to go. The fog was thick, but by following our GPS we found the coastline without any problem. On our arrival we were greeted by dozens of walrus in the water – bobbing up and down, looking at us, curious. They would approach, check us out, then suddenly dash off in a flurry of splashes!

This is a herd of female walrus with their young babies. During the summer walrus stay in separate same-sex herds – the male herds tend to be in more southern parts of Svalbard while the female herds are farther north.

Young walrus pups, born earlier this spring, are adorable - they are very dark brown and have ‘puppy-like’ heads without any tusks. The year old pups have small sharp tusks, while the adult females have large white tusks.

The pups remain close to their mothers at all times – especially while swimming in the water. When tired or scared, the pups will ride up on the backs of their mothers. In the distance, through the fog, we could see a large group hauled out on some rocks, but we did not want to disturb the walrus, so we did not approach too close, but we could hear all the grunting and barking of the adults as they communicated with one another.

Before starting the afternoon zodiac tours, our scout boat had also found two polar bears on the coastline. By the time we arrived, they were lying down in nearby snow patches. Although we could see them clearly, they did not get up at all, so after about 15 minutes we headed back over to visit the walruses, which entertained us with their funny antics and noisy grunts.

Although we were unable to land because of the fog and polar bears, we did get a look at the monument that is erected here. This monument is in honour of the explorer Salomon August Andrée and his companions who died here in 1897.

It is an interesting history – this is the site where Salomon August Andrée ended the tragic attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon. They had set out from Virgohamna, in their balloon “Örnen” (the Eagle) on July 11, 1897, but unfortunately the balloon failed and they crash-landed on the sea ice in September. After a strenuous journey, three of the explorers, Salomon August Andrée, Nils Strindberg and Knut Frænkel, managed to reach Andrèeneset, the southwestern ice free section of Kvitøya (meaning ‘White Island’) on October 5, 1897.
The crew of the ship “Brattvåg” stumbled across the remains of the Andrée’s expedition in the summer of 1930.

It was a fantastic afternoon - to see so many walrus in the water is such a special experience, and everyone showed up at the recap & briefing with big smiles.

 

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