Ice Bears Trip: Day 4

Tuesday 6/24

I woke up very early again – before 5:00.  I think the midnight sun was messing with me, as I got very little sleep all week, yet rarely felt tired.  I made it to the bridge before 6:00 and talked to Piers about a few ship-related things: navigation and charting, how fresh water is obtained onboard, and how garbage is dealt with.

After breakfast, we anchored at Ardalsnuten on the western side of Edgeoya.  Holly and I jumped at the opportunity to go kayaking on the calm, glassy blue-green water.   While we were out, we took some data on water depth versus temperature and found that deeper meant colder (at least for the 10 meters we measured).   We also saw some red phalaropes and arctic terns fly by overhead.

Kayaking with Holly

After our paddle, we hopped on a zodiac and went ashore to stretch our legs.  We notably saw seven short, stout Svalbard reindeer grazing and lounging, and trampled over one of Svalbard’s “forests” of polar willow trees. In the photo below, those little green plants next to the hiker’s boot are willow trees.  No really, they are!  The adaptations of Arctic plants and animals are quite remarkable.

IMG_4069 the polar willow forest (and a buttercup)
IMG_1988 Svalbard Reindeer

The excitement of the afternoon began with a walrus sighting at Kapp Lee in northern Edgeoya.  I had secretly hoped we would see a walrus or two on the trip, so I bolted for the deck to take a peek.  It’s hard to locate and identify animals from a distance, even with binoculars; what I originally thought was a walrus was a pile of old snow – a bit embarrassing.  But we got closer and I saw them – three of them! – sleeping the day away.  We boarded zodiacs and headed over.

As we quietly walked along the beach, we passed an enormous collection of bones – ironically, a walrus graveyard.  Walrus were protected in Svalbard in 1952, but before that they were slaughtered mercilessly by hunters.  It was hard to see all those bones, but encouraging to find that a new generation of majestic animals had reclaimed their former home.

IMG_2044 walrus graveyard

As we watched the three walrus sweetly snooze with flippers covering their eyes, we also saw reindeer families passing by on the hill above us.  And then – we noticed another walrus out in the water!  He had followed one of the zodiacs and was very curious, swimming right up to the rubber boat before travelling along shore and joining us on the beach. He kindly snorted and snuffled and posed for photos as he swam toward us.  He was so charismatic, and our time with him was definitely a trip highlight for me.

IMG_2282 posing for his close-up

The day ended with beautiful light and the promise of ice for tomorrow.

at day's end

Tuesday brainstorming:

  • Charting and navigation (historical and today)
  • Obtaining fresh water on a ship

             reverse osmosis of seawater

             evaporation/vacuum treatment of seawater

  • Garbage onboard

             what are rules and regulations for disposal from ships? who makes them? consequences for non-compliance?

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