Polar bears and penguins, never will they meet

I will share with you a story from the last trip of the 2011/12 season which I thought was quite funny. We were tied up at the dock and a man comes to the hotel manager absolutely irate. “I want to change my cabin, it is not what I paid for” he yells at the hotel manager. The hotel manager being the nicest guy in the world says, “Well what is the problem with your cabin, sir?” The man replies “I paid for a sea view and all I can see is the dock!” Of course he will get his sea view as soon as we leave on our trip!

I was also asked at the end of the last cruise if we would have any chance of seeing polar bears – this after I give a lecture on the difference between the polar regions and the fact that we get Penguins in Antarctica and Polar bears in the Arctic and the two will never
meet because the bears would not be able to migrate over the equatorial regions and if flightless birds developed in the North they would be eaten by Polar bears and arctic foxes (although the Great Auk was flightless but humans hunted them to extinction in the late 17thC).

Arctic – greetings from Labrador 11 August, 2008

Greetings from Labrador

Well after a week or so of beautiful scenery in Greenland, we made our way over to Northern Canada where we were on the hunt for wildlife. We were beginning to think we weren’t going to see anything, so first stop was the lower savage islands where Polar bear are meant to hang out. One of the zodiac groups saw 3 bears, we didn’t see any. Thus, off we went to Akpatok Island where bears are often stuck for the summer if they miss the ice floes. It is quite easy to see them here as the island is surrounded by limestone cliffs probably 500m high with only a small shore line for them to exist. It wasn’t long before we saw our first bear and soon the count was up to 17, including mothers and cubs. Unfortunately, we were still fairly far away from them as we couldn’t get to close to the coast but they were still only about 100m away, so the sightings were really good but photographically not marvellous. The weather has been clear and warm, after a very cold day at Lower Savage. The clear conditions have meant that we have had 2 nights of the aurora borealis, last night being quite spectacular and if I didn’t have to get up really early this morning, I would have stayed out much later. I did manage a few OK photos, which is surprising as I needed a really long exposure, anywhere from 5-15 seconds which means that any movement results in a blur and of course we are on a moving ship. All things considered, I think the pics ended up pretty good. The aurora has been something I have wanted to see for as long as I can remember, but of course whenever I have been to the arctic it has been 24hours sunlight, so at least now that we are a bit further south, we are getting some darkness, which is quite a novelty (especially after a month of continuous sunlight). It is such an amazing thing to watch as it is completely silent and yet you watch the light moving in waves and often pulsing along the streaks. There were a number of times that the other colours, not just green, were visible, but it was difficult to get a shot of these.

Today we went to a wilderness area on Saqlek Fjord, and took a short hike up to a waterfall. The walk was nice and the water on the zodiac trip in was so clear that we could see hundreds of small jelly fish and rockfish sitting on the sea bed. We were hoping to see black bear, but only had sightings of caribou close to the research camp where we stopped.

We are at sea until tomorrow afternoon where we stop at Hopedale (Population 620) and we can check out the museum and little town. I really prefer the wilderness areas, but the little towns populated primarily by Inuit are really quite interesting.

Love from Labrador




Arctic Explorations 22 July 2008

Greetings from Svalbard

We are currently exploring Svalbard, a little Archipelago of Islands far North of Norway, reaching 80 degrees north at the Northern end. Our first trip we stayed fairly far South and explored only the Western side. This, now, was the second trip of the season ans we decided to see if we could head around the eastern side of Svalbard. The ice wasn’t too bad but we had some nice days, ice cruising in the zodiacs. The weather most of the time has been mild although overcast but the fog hasn’t been bad. The Western side was teeming with wildlife, and we had some pretty amazing experiences. We had an encounter with a young polar bear, where we saw 2 bears on the ice and put the zodiacs down and maneuvered between large pieces of sea ice and watched them for nearly 2 hours. The young bear (probably a second year bear, so fully grown) came right up to the edge of the ice and sat down and chewed a bit of the ice. It was probably 12m away. I didn’t get any photos though because I was driving and if the bear got into the water I would have to try and race away as quickly as possible. But it was a real privilege just being there and watching it so close. We also had a really good sighting of 2 bears, one at a seal carcass eating and the other come by chased it off the carcass and started feasting. We were pretty close to on the ship and managed to watch them for a long time before he eventually went off to harass the first bear a bit more. We went to an amazing place called Discobukta, where there is a canyon (a very small one) with hundreds of thousands of breeding Kittiwakes. Some of the guys saw a fox catch a bird and run off with it, I was on Polar bear spotting duty so only saw the fox run out of the canyon with the bird in its mouth. I alter went into the canyon for about half an hour when most of the guests had left and sat quietly, to have a couple of foxes run in front of me on the other side of the small stream, probably 15m away. The birding has been fantastic, with us getting the opportunity to visit a number of difference bird colonies and each time the weather has been good so visibility hasn’t been a problem and we have seen puffin, White tailed sea eagle, little auks, guillemots, Gulls and lots of kittiwakes. Yesterday, we stopped at a glacier and I took some people for a short walk and then went on a zodiac cruise along the glacier and up to some spectacular icebergs, which were more like ice sculptures. We also saw a bearded seal on an ice floe really close up. We have also had amazing experiences with walrus on a few occasions, although we haven’t gone too close to them, we managed to see them very well at one of the stop off points.

Well, yesterday we left Svalbard and we are now on our way to Jan Mayen, a small island in the middle of nowhere closest to Iceland. The weather is usually very bad there so we don’t know if we will be able to make a landing but normally not more than 250 people a year visit. There are 2 possible landing sites but it will depend on wind speed and direction as there can be big surf and there is likely to be a low pressure on its way. We our landing at Jan Mayen, and had a nice walk along the island and visited the base before heading down towards Iceland.

Love from the Arctic