24.06.2011 - 24.06.2011 3 °C
Received our first wakeup call this morning! It’s funny, the expedition leader gives us a wakeup call every morning and tells us what we the weather is, what we are going to do for the day etc. Anyway up we got for our breakfast at 7.30am in the dining room. The dining room is in a great place because you can sit in the room and all tables have a great view out the front of the boat and out to the sides, so you can at all times see the mountains, sea and wildlife around you.
After brekky we headed out onto deck to “check it all out”. I went for the back deck and found a great spot out of the wind but still with fantastic views of the landscape. I can’t get over how quiet it is here in Spitsbergen. Apart from the low rumble of the boat I can’t hear anything except my own breath! It’s amazing! Even the sea birds that fly past don’t make a noise! Incredible! The site from the back deck was just inspiring, total silence with majestic big black mountains to either side, ringed with snow! I could have almost fallen asleep out there for all of the peace!
We slowly wound our way up the Hornsberg sound. At the end of the sound we came up to an ice field and sat and just watched the landscape. Lunch was called and so we all trouped in for some yummy minestrone soup and chicken tikka. Just as we sat down for dinner we had the announcement that polar bears had been sited. We all rushed to don our clothing and rushed out to the deck to see them.. Gosh they are hard to see in a field of ice. All you could see was this dark spec on the horizon that seemed to move. If you didn’t have a good set of binoculars you couldn’t see them at all. We stayed watching the bears for a couple of hours. WE eventually had the boat close enough that you could see them with your naked eye but still it was impossible to make out features or what they were actually doing.. All you could tell was it was some big shaggy animal walking on all 4 legs!
It’s funny, but we may actually not see them any closer than what we did.. See the problem is that if we see them on the land (and we are on land) then we must leave immediately. Polar bears can move 10 times faster than humans and are carnivores so of course they will see us as lunch so will try to eat us and it will be unlikely we will be able to out run them. Our guides carry weapons and flare guns but obviously no-one wants to injure one of these amazing creatures so we may actually not see one that close.. Fingers crossed we can see them up close on the ice pack whilst we are safely on board our ship.
Polar bears mainly eat seals (although I guess they will eat any sort of meat if they are hungry enough) and the seals live under the ice flows. Apparently a polar bear can smell a seal from over a km away and under 3+m of ice! Incredible sense of smell! So they can easily smell us if we get close enough. All of the animals and plant life are protected up here. You can still get a hunting license to hunt the arctic fox and reindeer but you need to be a Norwegian citizen and you need to hold a hunting license.. There is no hunting of polar bears or walruses.
We spent hours watching the bears and eventually we moved away to go to our zodiac landing spot to see some “trees” and birds on the land. To take the zodiac is a bit of a mission in itself! I donned the following clothing:
- Short sleeved t-shirt
- Long sleeved thermal
- Long sleeved woolen shirt
- Wind breaker jacket
- Ski jacket
- Thermal pants
- Ski pants
- 2 pairs of socks
- Life jacket
- Special rubber gum boots
You feel like Michelin man himself! As the saying goes “I’m dressing for the arctic!” but in this case it is needed! Temp wasn’t too bad outside and I probably had on maybe two layers too many but better to be safe than sorry!
WE went for a wander and saw heaps of ice bergs, a trapper’s hut, some sort of mummy gull with her three grey haired babies (v cute), plenty of flying gulls (making a racket too) and heaps of Spitsbergen’s “trees”. The trees on Spitsbergen are nothing more than mosses, v small ground covers (with beautiful pink and purple flowers) and lichens. It’s quite surprising that there is actually this much vegetation.. From afar it looks v desolate, but when you get up close you can see actually quite a bit of growth. I guess without some sort of plant life none of the wildlife would be able to live up here!
The zodiacs are quite fun to ride and quite easy to get into and out of (which is pretty good considering the demographic of the ship is late 50s to mid 70s). They are basically big inflatable rubber duckies that seat about 10 or so. The ride isn’t bumpy and is nice and fast so quite exhilarating (not too cold either!)
Finished off the day with the most boring lecture about what animals, birds etc we can expect to see here on Spitsbergen.. I took almost none of it in and am only really interested in the puffins, walruses, seals and of course Polar Bears!!!
Time to head to sleep and get some much needed shut eye (I fell asleep in the boring lecture!). Tomorrow we are going to try and head around the bottom of Spitsbergen and up the LHS of the island (will depend on the ice flows as to whether we can make it or not).