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Day 17 - June 28, 2008 - Svalbard, Norway

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The night was bumpy as we proceeded south to Bear Island. We arrived shortly before 0630, and as we dropped anchor, we peered out into an almost impenetrable soup of fog. How, we wondered, could we ever make a Zodiac tour under these conditions? Soon Zodiacs were lowered and the scout team disappeared into the fog as we watched from The Restaurant. Around 0700, we received the call to disembark, and about half of us headed down to the Zodiacs. It was amazing to see how the fog lifted in the vicinity of the island. Soaring 200-metre cliffs filled with common guillemots, black-legged kittiwakes and fulmars greeted us as our Zodiacs headed west along the coastline. The rough volcanic rocks showed the neat layering of multiple eruptions and volcanic lava flows. At one point, a large cave entrance seemed to beckon us. Inside the cave, we noticed a rear exit into another semi-enclosed bay. Despite some rough seas, our skilled drivers timed our exit and we were soon on the other side of the rocks. On the way back to the Prince Albert II, we found huge colonies of guillemots that dove into the sea in unison. We watched, amazed, as the “flock” swam under the Zodiacs in search of small fish for their breakfast. Back on the ship, Carolina greeted us with hot chocolate spiked with rum or brandy.

Just before lunch, Christian Walter, our anthropologist, noticed several whales blowing to the port side of the ship. Captain Uli Demel slowed us down for a look and soon we were in a large pod of Humpback Whales. These whales surrounded the ship. But perhaps most spectacularly, one small (8 m) youngster played around the bow of the ship for over an hour. This animal rolled onto its back and “waved” with its long pectoral flippers. Then it repeatedly breached, leaping into the air and twisting as it crashed down into the water. We were so close the guests on the observation deck reported clearly hearing its explosive blows and the sound of it slapping the water with it flippers. Lecturers Tony Huntley and Brent Stephenson both agreed that this was a truly unique opportunity to see these magnificent creatures. Captain Uli sadly reported that after an hour and one half with our new friend we would have to leave for Tromso, but as we left the captain christened the young whale Gilbert in favor of our Restaurant Maitre d’. Soon we were in The Restaurant eating lunch, but watching carefully for more whales.

Sharon, the staff photographer, met with us in the afternoon to explain the pictures she has been taking and the CD and DVD that will be available. Following this, Christian gave a lecture on colonialism. He traced the origin of the word colony and the first colonial power (the Roman Empire) through to the present. It was interesting to see how colonial powers developed and shaped the modern world. Many of us were interested to know just how many “colonies” still exist in the world today.

This evening we joined Captain Uli and the staff and crew of the Prince Albert II for a farewell cocktail party in The Theatre. It was somewhat sad to note that our eighteen-day excursion into the Atlantic north was fast becoming a memory. Following the party, we headed down to The Restaurant for a farewell dinner. Although we will eat onboard one more night, this was our last at-sea dinner. Sean Emslie’s food was, as usual, incredible, but our mood was just a little somber, somewhat like saying goodbye to a very old friend.

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