Saturday 13 August 2011

Bamsebu in Bellsund

The bones from an estimated 550 Beluga Whales slaughtered
in the 1930s at Bamsebu in Bellsund

The landscape in Bellsund is dramatic and with today's grey cloud cover, quite forboding.  High, dark, snow-covered mountains surround the fjord.  A tundra plain stretches from the base of the landing site at Bamsebu to the foot of the imposing mountains. 
As we approached the beach in the Polar Cirkel boats we could see large piles of bleached white bones.  Beluga whales were slaughtered here in the hundreds during the 1930’s.  The bones were discarded in heaps along the shoreline.  An estimated 550 whales were slaughtered here.  It was a moving reminder of how our relationship with nature has changed with changes in education, wealth and technology.
Trapper's cabin, Bamsebu in Bellsund Svalbard.
We landed near some small huts that were built purely for the Beluga Whale hunt.  As we hiked around the tundra plain we spotted 5 Svalbard Reindeer one of which was a large male with an impressive rack of antlers.  There were also many birds to watch including Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese, Purple Sandpipers, Arctic Terns, Fulmars, Arctic Skuas and Black-guillemots.
Artifact in Bamsebu.
We were all back on the ship at about 13:00 when the Captain made an announcement that there was a Polar Bear on a small island very near our landing site!  Cool!  Everyone grabbed their binoculars and camera and then headed outside to see and photograph the Charismatic King of the North.  Or was it a Queen?  We couldn’t be entirely sure if it was a male or a female. As we watched, the bear slipped into the water and started swimming straight for the Fram!  It was astonishing to see how fast it could swim.  It took the bear about ten minutes to cover the 500 metres.  It seemed not at all bothered by the ship.  Indeed, it seemed curious.  When the bear got to about twenty metres from the ship it turned and continued on a course that would eventually take it straight across the fjord.
In the afternoon we attempted a landing at Vårsolbukta on the other side of Bellsund. The ship dropped anchor at about 15:00.  While the Expedition Team headed to shore to prepare the landing site, it was determined by the officers on the bridge that the sea conditions at the tender pit were too rough to permit the safe loading and unloading of the Polar Cirkel boats.  In the interests of passenger safety, the decision was made to cancel the landing.
To help fill the gap, the Expedition Team promptly scheduled two lectures; one on whales and one on the geology of Svalbard.
In the evening we had briefings about the plans for tomorrow and then later at 22:00 we were treated to a food and ice carving demonstration in the Observation Lounge.