Monday 5 September 2011

A Day of Exotic Wildlife.

Female Polar Bear with two cubs on a whale carcass.
If someone had told you when you were a troubled teenager that one day you would be high in the Arctic watching Polar Bears and Walruses in one of the remotest wilderness areas in the world, what would you have thought? Would you have believed them? I certainly didn’t imagine that I would be so privileged.  Privileges like that were reserved for Marlin Perkins and Jim on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  I was wrong.  Today we experienced the wild kingdom first hand.
In the morning starting at 08:30 we were able to watch Polar Bears along the shoreline from our Polar Cirkel boats. We were in Freemandsundet between Edgeøya and Barentsøya Islands. Despite a heavy fog, the Expedition Team was able to find three bears, a female with two cubs, near an old whale carcass.  It was difficult to identify the species of whale but it was possibly a small Fin Whale.   Most of the carcass had been stripped clean although there were enough scraps left to keep the bears interested.  
Later when the fog began to lift, the Expedition Team discovered another three bears! To be able to see one of the most powerful and beautiful predators on the planet in its natural habitat was an experience that none of us will ever forget.

Male walrus hauled out at Kapp Lee.
In the afternoon we sailed further south to Kapp Lee on the north west coast of Edgeøya.  From the ship we could see a group of at least twenty Walrus hauled out on shore.  At this landing site we had planned the options of going on a long hike or short hike.  For the long hike we had hoped to go to the top of the escarpment at Kapp Lee but there was a heavy fog layer part way up the slope.  Hiking in the fog in Polar Bear country just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense so both hikes were restricted to lower elevations. 

Whether or not you chose a long, or short, or no hike at all, there was plenty of time to go visit those crazy Walruses.  I mean crazy in the cool, outlandish, extreme kinda way.  If you were to design an animal that specializes in eating clams and lives in cold water, would you have come up with a Walrus?  Lounging on a soft sandy beach, not more than 40 metres away in a big, grumbling, snorting pile, was a group of approximately twenty heavily tusked pinnipeds. Occasionally one of the bigger animals would decide to move from the periphery to the interior of the pile, possibly because it is warmer in the centre.  This procedure involved sharply poking the bloke in front of you with your tusks which of course resulted in much grumbling from the pokee and loud grumbling from all of the disturbed neighbours.  It was fascinating to watch how they sorted themselves out.  Several of the Walruses had broken tusks.  A couple of them even had two broken tusks.