Friday 5 August 2011

The Bear Necessities!

Terrain near Gravneset

Blue skies once again!  Yeehaw. When we landed at the old whaling station of Gravneset this morning the cloudy skies of yesterday had been replaced by mostly clear skies. What a difference a sunny day can make! 
Very old whaler's coffin at Ytre Norskeøya.
We started landing procedures at 09:00.  Once again we were divided into our various language groups.  Soon large groups of people were being guided across the isthmus of Gravneset.  We paused along the way to learn about some of the whaling history of the region.   This small site had been exposed to over 200 hundred years of whaling pressure. Artifacts of that period are still very much in evidence with several blubber ovens and over 130 graves of long gone whalers.
We continued on to a ridge of moraine where we had an excellent view of the surrounding landscape. Suddenly a bear was spotted in the water on the other side of the bay.  The Expedition Team paused to observe the bear.  It was soon discovered that the bear was headed directly towards our large group of people on shore.  Immediately the decision was made to head directly back to the landing site.
Perhaps the bear was curious, but for whatever reason it continued to make its way to the beach.  One of the Expedition Team fired off a loud “bang flare” to discourage the bear’s progress.  It took a second round to get the bear to change its mind and to change its course.  Meanwhile, everyone continued on back to the landing site.  We continued to keep an eye on the bear as it made its way to the north shore.  After about an hour the bear reached the distant shore.  It continued moving north and eventually vanished behind a ridge.
Phew!  What an exciting morning!
In the afternoon the weather was so good that the decision was made to attempt an unscheduled landing.  At 16:30 we headed to the beach at Ytre Norskeøya.  Another historic whaling site that had seen whaling activity for a couple of hundred years.  One of the first things we noticed was the large number of Arctic Terns in the air and on the ground.  The chicks were all off the nest and the protective parents were keeping a watchful eye on their offspring.  We kept our hike close to the water’s edge in order to disturb the Terns as little as possible.  Nevertheless, once in a while, people found the air above their heads alive with a chattering, screeching, angry, feathery parent!
Once we passed the nesting area the Terns settled down.  Further along the shoreline we found several very old whaler’s graves.  It was a strange feeling to peer into the exposed coffins and contemplate what the whaler’s life might have been like.  We could see bone fragments and in one coffin we could see a skull.  Eerie.
We continued up a ridge to a really nice vantage point where we could enjoy nearly a 360˚ view.  After about an hour we made our way back to the landing site.
It was already a very full day but it was not over yet.  We continued on to the most northerly point of our journey.  We arrived at 80˚ North and Moffen Island at 23:30.
Even though it was a late hour this was cause for a quiet celebration on the bow deck!