Day 9 - June 24, 2013 - Bear Island
By Kara Weller, Biologist
Co-ordinates: 74º21.8’ N, 019º09.6’ E
Air Temperature: 6ºC
Pressure: 1014 hPa
Wind: 10 knots
Bear Island is a magical place. This small island has many jagged cliffs on the southern end, and just after breakfast we launched the zodiacs and took off to explore its wild coast on a 1.5-hour cruise.
Birds were everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of them sat on the cliffs and their loud cries rang in our ears as we stared up at the sheer rock walls. Puffins were seen standing on a slope near shore with their bright orange beaks and worried expressions making them so charming to watch. Further along, we saw more and more guillemots nesting on the rock ledges, packed like sardines right next to each other. Since they lay their eggs directly on the rock ledge without needing to build their own nest, they can stand shoulder to shoulder with other birds, and don’t need much personal space. Kittiwakes were also nesting on the cliffs in the thousands but these birds prefer a bit more space and build little nests out of vegetation. Therefore, they have a bit of elbow room around them. Larger glaucous gulls were sitting aloof and lonely near the edges of these massive colonies looking for things to prey on. A few were seen near the water’s edge pecking at dead kittiwakes. Some black guillemots were spotted as well, and fulmars bobbed around in the water near the ship. A handful of gannets sat perched on top of a high rocky island. This year is the first time we have seen gannets at this location.
The zodiacs were able to explore not just the magnificent cliffs with their seabird colonies, but some interesting caves and tunnels as well. Deep into the limestone cliffs we drove, until it was dark and a bit spooky and narrow inside. Some tunnels and arches were also nice to drive through and made for a bit of excitement. The mist near the top of the cliffs along with the Russian shipwreck the Petrozavodsk
slowly falling apart on the rocky shore where it had catastrophically landed a few years ago, also added a bit of drama to the landscape.
One unusual surprise lay at the end of the cruise when the discovery was made that a single walrus was wallowing in the water in the shallow water at the other end of the bay. We wondered if it was lost that it had ventured so far south, or simply enjoying a new location.
Once back onboard the Silver Explorer, our afternoon was spent at sea heading south towards Tromso. Our lecture program continued with a talk from Christian (also known as Rapa) about the various North Pole expeditions. Our chef (also named Christian) put on a marvellous cooking demonstration that was interrupted by the call that whales had been spotted from the bridge. The captain slowed down the ship and we all went out on deck in the sunshine to admire two humpback whales cavorting near the ship and slapping their pectoral flippers on the water. We don’t know why whales do this really, perhaps for all we know they were simply waving goodbye to us.
The afternoon continued with a team trivia session during teatime and later the usual recap and briefing before our Captain’s farewell cocktail party and marvellous dinner. The seas remained calm and pleasant for perfect cruising the rest of the evening.
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