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Day 11 - July 10, 2008 - Bear Island, Norway

By Brent Stephenson, Orinthologist

Co-ordinates: N 74° 23’, E 19° 13’
Weather: Overcast, 6 degrees C

Overnight, the Prince Albert II made very good time, using current and wind to good effect. As we breakfasted, we were informed that we would be arriving at Bear Island ahead of schedule. Looking out of the dining room windows, we could see the dark shape of the island as we passed along the eastern coastline. Named due to the fact that a Polar bear was seen swimming nearby when discovered in 1596, the island’s name is actually a bit of a misnomer. Although Polar bears occasionally make it to the island in winter, these days they are not usually found at this rugged outpost. Instead the island is home to birds…millions of birds!

As the ship approached the south-eastern tip of Bear Island, the Zodiacs were lowered and our Expedition Team took to their rubber fleet. The Captain was able to find a relatively sheltered position, and we were able to board the Zodiacs and head out for what was to be our last great adventure on this cruise. And an adventure it was. The towering limestone cliffs were impressive, but the clouds of birds swarming around the coastline were even more amazing. Huge flocks of Common and Brunnich’s guillemots were rafting just offshore and we were able to get incredibly close to these very penguin-like birds. Sitting quietly in the Zodiacs, taking pictures, and admiring the spectacle, we could see the birds swimming through the clear water underneath us. Huge breeding colonies lined the cliffs in many areas, with guillemots, Northern fulmars, kittiwakes, and even a few Atlantic puffins being present. The noise, the swirling clouds of birds, and even the smell were something to behold. As we explored the coastline, we found several sea-caves, some extending several hundred feet back into the heart of the island. We also found the “Pearly Gates”, an amazing sea-cave that passes through a small peninsula. Heading through the archway, we really were heading towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

After lunch, Dr. Christian Walter presented a lecture on Vikings. He explored the reasons they left their various Scandinavian homelands and explored and conquered England and Continental Europe. The history of many of these countries has been heavily influenced not only by the raids of these people, but through their settlement and trading. Later, Dr Tony Huntley enlightened us as to the diving adaptations of marine mammals. He particularly focused on the incredible feats of Elephant seals, which are amongst the deepest diving of all marine mammals.

As the evening approached, we readied ourselves for the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party and dinner. Captain Demel toasted to our voyage and entertained us before bringing all the crew to the stage. As we ate yet another excellent dinner it was hard to believe that our cruise was nearing an end.

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