Friday 26 July 2013

Hornsund and Whales

Gazing out the window this morning brought sweeping views of Hornbreen (Glacier). Seeing ice is always nice, and we were afforded picturesque bergs floating past the boat. The mood was set for the day as we cruised slowly through the calm waters of the fjord towards our landing site for the afternoon.  As passengers were getting fitted for the rubber boots used for beach landings, we arrived at the mouth of Hornsund.

After the usual polar bear sweep, passengers began coming ashore and exploring a bit. A highlight for many of the folks I spoke to were the birds nesting in the cliffs above the landing beach. Hundreds of Guillemots and Kittiwakes were nesting on the cliff walls, and fulmars and an occasional puffin flew by, high above the ground where a small arctic fox was running around in search of its next meal. It was a rather curious fox, and was very interested in our backpacks, running from one side of the landing site to the other, investigating his visitors. After returning to the ship under a sunny sky, we set off for a special site where whales are often spotted.

As the Captain and Crew were introduced, whale spouts were began being spotted in the distance. We had reached the “Drop-off”, where whales come to feed during the summer months. The observation lounge and outside decks provided a spectacular view of the show that was unfolding before everyone on board. Humpback and Minke whales, among others, were feeding in an area with lots of upwelling. The steep rise in sea level, combined with a strong ocean current  push nutrient rich water to the surface, in the process known as upwelling; which in turn provide the essential nutrients for algae and small organisms to grow on which these large marine mammals live off. For nearly 45 minutes, a group of about a dozen humpback whales stayed just off the bow and fed while we floated quietly. It was an amazing experience, and perfect way to end the day, to be able to hear their vocalizations and loud breaths when they came up for air under the midnight sun.