Monday 29 July 2013

Polar Bears and Walrus!

Under somber grey skies we set out in our Polar Cirkel boats at 08:30 to explore the terminus of Monacobreen, a glacier named after Duke Albert of Monaco.  Each glacier cruise was thirty minutes long.  It took about five minutes for the speedy Norwegian boats to  reach the minimum safety distance of 200 metres to the glacier which meant that each boat had a full twenty minutes to cruise along the ice front!  As an additional safety measure, all five boats set out in an anti-clock wise train, ensuring that you always had company close by.

As usual there were thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes in the air, on the water and perched on ice floes.  Where the fresh water outflow of the Glacier was the greatest, there congregated many thousands of sea birds.  With good binoculars you could see that most of the birds were Kittiwakes with a smattering of Northern Fulmars and Glaucous Gulls mixed in.  It took a full five hours to make sure that everyone got their turn in the Polar Cirkel boats.  By 13:30 everyone was back on board Fram.

In the afternoon we visited a site called Jotunkjeldene in Bockfjorden.  In Norse mythology, Jotuns are a race of giants.  Jotunskjeldene translates to "giant springs".  However the springs here are barely more than a trickle of sulphur laden water. One wonders if these springs were larger at one time or if perhaps the name is an example of Nordic humour. The result of the warmer spring water is the presence of several species of plants that do not grow anywhere else in Spitsbergen.  We walked 100 metres straight up from the landing site to the spring and from there we could continue for another two to three hundred metres where we had a nice view of the surrounding area.  From that beautiful vista we could continue down the same route to the landing site.
Jotunkjeldene is a beautiful place. Large glaciers surround the landing site.  There are deep red, iron rich mountains to the east.  There were lots of wold flowers blooming including Bulbous Saxifrage, Mountain Avens, Arctic Mouse Ear and Svalbard Poppy.    We saw lots of evidence of Caribou in the form of scat and shed antlers.
By 20:00 everyone was back on the ship.  Even though we had already had a full and rewarding day, the day was not yet over.  We set a course for Moffen island where we would cross 80˚ N and where we hoped to find Walruses hauled out on the sandy beach.  Moffen is a protected area.  No one is allowed to land there, but with good binoculars we hoped to see those extraordinary pinnipeds.

On the way to Moffen Island we sighted Five Polar Bears in the same area.  One of the bears was dragging what looked like a Reindeer leg.  Food is one of the only things that will draw Polar Bears together in a loose group.  We watched the Polar Bears for about an hour and then we continued on to Moffen Island.