5th.June: Polar bear sighting
Position: 80°02.7’N / 011°18.0’E
Wind: NW 2
Air Temperature: -4
After the BBQ-party yesterday evening, we got an early wake-up call at 6h30! Our Expedition Leader Ali announced a polar bear sighting! Excited by the news, everyone rushed to the decks (no running though 😉 in order to get a view on the bear. And there it was, sniffing the environment with its nose and sometimes tasting the air with its tongue. It was not too far away, yet too difficult to tell whether it was a male or female. After about 20 minutes it laid down for some time before slowly moving away from us. The ship tried to get closer but the big ice floes of the pack ice were holding us back.
The native range of the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) lies largely within the Arctic Circle, encompassing the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas and landmasses, which includes the northernmost regions of North America and Eurasia. It is the largest bear species, as well as the largest land carnivore. A boar (adult male) weighs around 350–700 kg), while a sow (adult female) is about half that size. Although it is the sister species of the brown bear, it has evolved to occupy a narrower ecological niche, with many body characteristics adapted for cold temperatures, for moving across snow, ice and open water, and for hunting seals, which make up most of its diet. Although most polar bears are born on land, they spend most of their time on the sea ice, hunting their preferred food of seals from the edge of sea ice, and often living off fat reserves when no sea ice is present.
While the ship made an (unsuccessful) attempt to approach the bear from another direction, Annelou gave an interesting lecture on sea ice and its formation. Surprisingly, how many types of ice exist!
In the meanwhile, bearded seals started to show up. Their main features are a chunky body with a small head which has long whiskers. Beautiful creatures.
At 11h the Expedition Staff started giving some mini lectures. Ali talked about polar bears, Emily lectured about the impressive migration of Arctic Terns and Elizabeth gave us some insight in photo identification and GPS tracking of marine mammals.
Lots of birds could be spotted around the ship. Kittiwakes really liked the disturbance of water caused by our ship. We regularly saw them catching some fish, probably polar cod. Other birds that flew next to the ship were Brünnich’s guillemot, little auk, glaucous gull and of course the arctic tern.
After a glass (or two…) of hot chocolate with some rum in the afternoon, a brown-reddish animal presented himself: a male walrus with large tusks! It was lying on a (already quite dirty) ice floe. The ship circled around it and our journey proceeded. The day ended nicely with some evening sunshine.