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Day 8 - September 4, 2009 - Lady Franklin Island And Monumental Island

By Rob Suisted, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: Co-ordinates: 062°45.24’N 063°56.53’ W
Weather: Fine, no wind

For some of us, the day started at 1am when it was announced that the northern lights (or aurora borealis) was playing overhead. Later in the morning I was woken up to sun streaming into my cabin; a wonderful feeling to get the sunshine back after a few rainy cloudy days. The outside air temperature is up a bit, and the barometer has climbed from the deep low we’ve just had, so all and all a great day to be alive.

We arrived offshore of Lady Franklin Island, a barren rocky stack parked in the middle of the sea. A big swell was still rolling in so time was taken to test the conditions before we could disembark into Zodiacs. Fortunately we found it ‘do-able’ with good help from the sailors on the side gate.

Lady Franklin Island had not been visited by any of us previously, so it was to be an interesting visit of exploration. On one side very dramatic cliffs of 200 metres stuck straight up out of the sea. I drove my Zodiac underneath, getting as close as the ocean swells would allow. The view for all was fantastic – sheer granite walls rising straight out of the water and almost overhanging.

We continued on around the island and on a hunch headed offshore to a small island further off. Half way across to the island we spotted two polar bears on the small island. They headed down and into the water so we backed away several hundred metres and watched. Lucky for us the mother and large cub came ashore and created a beautiful spectacle shaking the water from their coats in full back-lit sunshine. The other Zodiacs joined us and we watched for a while as the bears climbed the rocks before sitting down and rolling on the ground – very cute.

We finished this visit with a look at some large icebergs trapped in a bay, before heading out to the ship.

The Prince Albert II lifted anchor and repositioned to Monumental Island while we enjoyed lunch. This island was named as a monument to Sir James Franklin, who died along with his men on the search for the North West Passage.

As is the case around here, soundings on the navigation charts are limited, so the ship anchored offshore a long way, but not far enough for Chris to spot at least one polar bear on the island’s shores. Again we set off with great expectations. Before long we’d spotted one polar bear that watched us for a while before heading off.

We continued to explore the island’s nooks and crannies, finding some nice caves and fissures to drive Zodiacs into. I love getting intimate with the geology of a place as you can by boat, and here it was an enjoyable time poking about and finding interesting sights. But, as luck would have it, we were once more interrupted by the best polar bear viewing we’d had so far this trip. A large male bear stood not far above the tide and watched us as we quietly edged forward below him. It was a very special time and all got great photos. Today was a very hot day in this neck of the woods and he was clearly very hot. We chose to sneak away and leave him in case we were adding to his stress. The Zodiac trip concluded with a circumnavigation of the island to see the great ocean swell rolling into shallow shoals and reefs in the late afternoon sun, the sea casting a fine mist in the air and adding to the atmosphere. Dinner and an early bed for many tonight I’d say; sun, sea and polar bears really takes it out of you!

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