Saturday 26 July 2014

Three Polar Bears, Two Blue Whales, Walruses, Fin Whales, Minke Whales, Killer Whales, Bearded Seals...

Blue Whale
Photo © Morten Hilmer
Whoee!! Today was a (choose your own superlative) wildlife day!  We saw two of the largest animals to ever live; two Blue Whales (although there has been a recent fossil discovery to suggest that the mighty Blue may be the second biggest).  The Blue Whale is also an endangered species making the experience a rare event.  There are approximately 8,000 Blue Whales worldwide.  In the same area we also saw several Fin Whales, the second largest animal to ever live, or is it the third now? No matter. They are magnificent either way.
But let’s start at the beginning.  We began our day by ship cruising near the face of Monaco Glacier in Liefdefjorden bright and early at 08:30.  As usual there were hundreds of seabirds feeding right at the glacier face in particular there were many Kittiwakes and Northern Fulmars but also numerous Glaucous Gulls, Black Guillemots and a few Arctic Skuas.
Our plan after Monaco was to cruise past the old hunter’s cabin at Mushamna and continue to Moffin Island to visit the Walruses.  From there we would continue as far north and east as we could go.  Our ultimate destination was to reach the pack ice.
Photo © Morten Hilmer
Shortly after leaving Monaco we spotted a large Polar Bear exploring along the shore line.  The Captain was able to maneuver Fram to within a couple of hundred metres of the shore where we had terrific views of the ivory coloured bear.  No sooner did we bid adieu to the bear when there came an announcement that two more Polar Bears had been spotted. 
Photo © Morten Hilmer
This time it was a mother and coy (cub of the year).  The pair were lying in a green area on the side of a small hill.  The two bears were so insistent on resting that the only interest they showed in Fram was to sleepily raise their heads from time to time and gaze blearily at us.
In the afternoon we cruised by Mushamna and there on the beach was a lone Walrus, also catching a few zees.  It too raised it’s head at Fram’s passing and then, z-z-z-z. Back to sleep.
A couple of hours later we arrived just north of the magic latitude of 80ºN at Moffin Island where a group of about thirty long-tusked pinnipeds lay lounging on the beach.  More Walruses! 
Walrus haul out.  Moffin Island.
Photo © Morten Hilmer
Moffin is a wildlife sanctuary and much more often then not, when we arrive at the extremely small low sandy island there are one or two groups of Walruses huddled on the beach.
From Moffin we headed north and east looking for the ice edge but en route we encountered an extremely rich body of ocean.  It was teeming with wildlife.  As we looked around the ship we could see the blows of several large whales.  There were also large groups of seals here and there, as well as a significant increase in the numbers of seabirds.  
On closer inspection it turned out that two of the whales were Blues! At times we were able to get quite close as the whales were intent on feeding on krill.  During their feeding forays dozens of Kittiwakes would swoop down and pick off their left-overs.
In the same vicinity were several Fin Whales and the occasional Minke Whale.
After fighting our way through all of the wildlife… (admittedly I used the word “fighting” for dramatic effect.  No harm was done to any animals during the making of this blog or during our cruise). After slowly cruising beyond the magnificent Blues, we encountered the pack-ice.
Cruising in the pack ice.
Photo © Morten Hilmer
And at 18:00 we dropped the PC boats and took everyone for a spin in the ice.  If you’ve never done it before it is a lot of fun.  It really is the best way to see ice.  Be in a small boat right in the pack.  Wonderful.
Finally at 21:00 everyone was back on the ship and Fram turned her bow towards more Arctic adventures for the morrow.

Oh, right!  I almost forgot to mention that a few lucky people saw a group of Killer Whales in the morning!!