day 1 (Oslo)
day 2 (Svalbard)
day 3 (Spitsbergen)
day 4 (Walrus)
day 5 (Fann Kapshaw)
day 6 (Polar Bears)
day 7 (More Bears!)
day 8 (Glaciers)
day 9 (Settlements)
day 10 (Going home)

Flying Penguins - well, Guillemots, and our First Bear

  • thousands of birds, crammed onto every ledge
  • Looking down the cliff- all the tiny spots are birds
  • The FIRST bear!
  • Kapp Fanshaw and hundreds of thousands of guillemots

Foggy and drizzly this morning, at 5:30, when we got the ship-wide wake-up call that we had arried at Kapp Fanshawe, a steep cliff that is home to some hundred thousand pairs of nesting birds -- kittywakes, guillemots, gulls, and a numbero f other birds that I can' quite identify yet. The captain sidled the boat right up to the shore, maybe thirty feet away, and we all stood at the rails staring up at the high clifs and the swarms of birds careening around the steep walls nd crags and perching on fantastically tiny ledges. Hundreds and hundreds of them, crammed togther on any tiny spec of horizontal surface. 

They look like penguins (that black-and-white coloration is common here --dark on top so they can't be seen by other airborne predators, light on the bottom so they can't be seen by swimming ones) but they are, in fact, guillemots and fly remarkably well. The arctic has no penguins.

We had hoped to see a fox, too - they tend to run along the cliff base, and eat birds and eggs, their primary diet in summer. But we did not see one. Either they were off somewhere else today, or we simply didn't see the gray-brown fur among the gray-brown rocks, with all the rest of the activity. It was hard to get a sense of the scale of things, but I did take a few pictures that show one of the Endeavor's dinghies up against the cliff face...a tiny spec at the bottom, surrounding by the flurry of birds, looking like bees buzzing arond a hive.

We also at too much breakfast and slipped one by one back to ou cabins to nap -- which was interrupted after about an hour by the call that someone had sighted a polar bear!
Just one, sleeping on shore -- seriously, I would not have seen it at all. We think of pololar bears as white, but really they are dirty gray or yellow most of the time, and on the rocky shore, they don't tend to stand out that much. This one watched us warily as the ship crept closer to shore, then heaved himself up and wandered slowly across the snow and back over the hill. I don't think they really know what to make of us. they have to realize that the big ship thing isn't actually a threat, it doesn't actually come that close and can't come on  land or move very quickly -- but all the clicking cameras and people clustered around might be a bit confusing. Again, though, polar bears aren't afraid of people. They eat people. We are slow and fat and tasty and if they have he oppportunity, they'll certianly think we're a better meal than a quick and agile seal. I know I sound like a broken record, but we got that warning multiple times a day from everyone!

We all took too mnay pictures, although there will be other polar bears and other animals (hopefuly narwhals!) over the net few days as we actually circumnaviaget the main island. Usually that is n't possible, the sea ice is just too thick. But this ha been a light ice summer so far, and we may be able to get through. and the ice floes and pack ice on the western side of the island should harbor many more bears.

The scenery is lovely today, even in the fog. We're passing by rocky islands with every narrow fjord down to the sea filled with ice -- blue and cracked and ragged There are almost too many glaciers here to name.