Glaciers and Wildlife

      Comments Off on Glaciers and Wildlife

Glaciers: Day 4

I was concerned about my flexibility getting into and out of the rubber zodiac boats but it has not been a problem, even clothed with many layers of padding in all directions.   We travel by our motor Zodiac raft to land near the shore this morning and walk through water with our rubber boots a few steps onto the land.  I have been talking my walking poles for stability which have been very helpful on the uneven rocky soil.   This morning we are at Signehamna which proves to be a slightly uphill walk to a viewing point, tramping over some snow and ice while trying not to disturb the natural landscape.  Nearby is a small lake-like water hole and reindeer walk beside it.   Nearby are our guards with guns at the ready to make sure we don’t get too close to animals or are approached unexpectedly by predators.   As polar bears are a protected species, killing them would be sanctioned but only in certain situations and the land is being constantly scanned by our guides with binoculars to make sure such a situation never arises.  The watch is so intense we are told not to even talk to those on guard and we heard that 2 bears were killed in the last 10 years to protect human life.

Signehamna landscape

Our itinerary is in constant flux as the weather and ice floes dictate.  As a storm warning developed in the South upon our embarkation, we headed North but our actual stops and path can, and do, change with the weather.   And with some accident in planning as another ship has unexpectedly arrived to the Liliehookbreen glacier so we have been reshuffled to another smaller glacier for our afternoon Zodiac ride as there are set government limits to visitors at any one time.  Unlike the previous day it is now overcast with low hanging clouds and considerably colder.  

Riding in our raft with about 8 people with our naturalist at the helm, we learn about the geology and animals of the area.  Today’s sightings include a bearded seal lounging on an ice berg and arctic terns and other birds that swoop above the water in this icy land.

Bearded Seal

We return to the Lilliehookbreen in the evening time — the word night has little meaning when it is light 24 hour a day – to view from the bow of the ship the large glacier stretching out many kilometers.  When it calves, and a piece on the front falls into the sea, birds immediately crowd above it to reap the nutrients brought up from the deep.

3 Zodiac boats in front of “small” glacier

Our day is separated by our 3 gourmet meals and our main activity on board is getting dressed in our arctic clothes for our outside adventure.   We get a daily recap of our days and information about what will happen on the morrow.  The evenings have been filled with various events planned by our four Adventure Guides:  trivia contests, tiki pool party, karaoke, films for the kids (Disney of course) but a large majority of us are in bed early each night. 

The Lilliehookbreen glacier at night

The Arctic Wildlife:   Day 5

We are now anchored in the fjord of Hamiltonbukta.  We see a magnificent landscape of grey and white before us as we embark in our Zodiac and are purred by its motor across the water rippled by wind.   The sky is low with clouds skimming the tops of the dark granite mountains.  White snow sits in the crevices and transform to glaciers in the larger and deeper valleys.    Stretches of sea ice float on the water.  And then, amidst this monochromal landscape, there suddenly is the intense turquoise blue of old ice hidden in the depths of the frozen water.

We were all rushed into our Zodiac rafts when a polar bear was sighted nearby and all 14 rafts were on the water as we all excitedly watched the shore with our binoculars.  An adolescent yellow-white bear was playing and running at the edge of the ice for and then suddenly took a dive into the water and begin swimming out to seek his lunch, apparently unsuccessfully.   He is still learning how to survive and a seal is nearby almost taunting him but easily escaping his powerful grasp.   But our attention is suddenly turned away as a minke whale is spotted, the curve of its back breaking the water as it rises and descends again with a puff from its blowhole marking its location.  A second whale is nearby and it is hard to know where to turn among the whales and the polar bear that can still be seen lifting its head out of the water.   There are also three common types of birds in the area, black-legged Kittiwake, arctic terns and guillemot, the latter are so large I think for a milli-second they are penguins on the ice until I remember we are in the wrong hemisphere.   

Polar Bear and Birds
Taken by Brian T. Jones in my Zodiac
Taken by Brian T. Jones

We return exhilarated to the ship after an exceptional outing with our viewing of a bear, a seal and a whale all in the same small sector of this great wilderness.

Taken by professional photographer on board Zodiac
These are the birds I thought were penguins! Taken by professionan photographer on board.

Our planned afternoon outing is delayed and then when we finally disembark on a cold a barren piece of land in Velkomspynten we can not stay long as the quickly descending fog poses a hazard.  We walk up the shore over gravel rock and up a small hill until our guides tell us to turn back due to the fog level.   By the time I leave in the next to last boat back to our floating home, the air is thick opaque fog in front of us.  The navigator at the helm is looking on a map on his cell phone to find his way and I feel a little relieved when the body of our ship comes into view through the fog – an exhilarating and memorable ride.

Claudia and Varya as fog comes in