2003 Expedition Blog
Monday, 2 June 2003, 11:50
We've just spent an amazing morning in Recherchefjord (just off Bellsund, the second large fiord from the south), watching bearded seals. Got some good photos - a couple of them are attached.
Early spring (now) is a good time of year to see seals. As the sea ice breaks up, seals can be seen resting and sunbathing on the ice floes. Later in the year they may be found on small icebergs that calve off the glaciers.
Two species of seals breed in Spitsbergen, the ring seal and the bearded seal. You can also see harp seals, but they come here to moult; they do not breed.
Ring seals are fish eaters, so they can feed in deep water. As a result you may find them on sea ice a long way from land. Bearded seals, on the other hand, are found close to land. They are bottom feeders, so they cannot find food if the water is deeper than the distance they are able to dive (???). Their bristles (beards) show that they hunt by touch, sweeping the bottom or the underside of the ice to find food.
Both bearded seals and ring seals breed on the ice, particularly near grounded icebergs. The iceberg acts as an anchor, making the sea ice around it particularly stable. Icebergs are therefore a good place to look for young seals.
The young do not swim, but stay on the ice, near the mother's breathing hole, waiting for the mother to return to feed them. As a result they are vulnerable to bears and foxes. Their dangerous existence means young seals grow fast. Seal milk is extremely rich in fat and protein, and the weight of young seals may increase by half a kilo or more every day.
Ring seals and bearded seals have different tactics for reducing the chance of their young becoming the prey of some passing bear or fox.
The smaller ring seal (app.80 kg) keep their young in a den under the snow. This gives them some protection, but a hungry bear or fox may still find the breeding hole, sniff out the young seal and dig the snow away.
The large bearded seals (up to 300kg) are too large to find cover under the snow. They don not have a den, but breed in the open. The seals breed far apart, spreading out is their strategy to avoid predators. Whether a particular seal will be found by a wandering polar bear is largely up to chance.
The seals we saw were quite tame, posing for the cameras and watching us. Only when we got too close, did they dive in and disappear.
Monday, 2 June 2003, 19:45
Late night stroll
Yesterday we had a typical day of filming and eating! So last night we decided we would go for an after dinner stroll.
We had moored in a secluded bay in Bellsund, one of the largest fjords in Spitsbergen, and one which held a long history of whaling. One of the sights in the area was a beach covered in beluga whale bones.
We left the boat at around 10pm for what we thought would be a wander along the beach. Little did we know that we were to walk 5km through snow and over boggy land to eventually reach the beluga bone beach that was covered with at least 2ft of snow! Not a problem...
Dan (an artist) dug around in the snow for a bit and came up with a few bones for us to have a look at. But we thought the best policy would be to head home. We got back to our drop-off place at gone midnight only to find that rather a lot of ice had drifted into the shore.
It was a struggle to find a good spot for the zodiac to come in and pick us up! Once we'd got into the inflatable, getting out to the boat was also a challenge!
We arrived back at the boat just before 1am and headed for bed. Today was a relaxing day...we spent the morning drifting amongst bits of ice watching the seals chilling out! This afternoon we decided once again to have a relaxing stroll...we should have learnt by now!
The walk actually wasn't that far...we were heading for a glacier. This meant walking over all the moraine material which was surprisingly soft. So when we weren't walking through snow, we were walking through what might have been a very sandy beach. Doesn't sound too bad, but boy does it tire you out!!!
It was worth it. The glacier was incredibly beautiful and the sound of the water coming out of the bottom of it was very soothing. After a short rest we headed back to the boat for dinner and a good nights sleep before arriving in Longyearbyen tomorrow morning.