June 16, 2016
Ok…the fog, rough seas and changing ice conditions has again changed our itinerary, so I am going to say we spent the morning motoring in the Hinlopen Straight and eventually disembarked on the zodiacs near Von Otteroya but I’m not 100% positive. This was our first time off the ship in nearly two days! Of course we enjoyed seeing all the polar bears from the bow, but at the same time we were happy to have an opportunity to cruise the bay…or at least I think. After about an hour of cruising around in miserable conditions, a deep fog and mist in the air, my hands and feet were frozen and I was less than enamored with the kittiwakes, guillemots, and icy coastline. I don’t think I was the only one silently wishing we could go back to the ship.
One zodiac had already begun its return, when we received a radio call, “Polar Bear spotted…the GPS coordinates are blah, blah, blah.” Ok, so that changed things! Suddenly the zodiac was filled with nervous, excitement. We all hoped the bear would still be there when arrived, especially when the drive across the choppy bay was taking a while. As we approached through the fog, we spotted a large blob. A bear was sitting on the shoreline while zodiacs idled nearby!
Just seeing a bear from the zodiac added to the level of excitement. The fast ice in this area was very thin. The young male had to spread his legs out to keep from falling through as he slowly approached our zodiacs to assess his food options. Upon realizing the traveling conditions weren’t ideal, he became a little less interested, especially when a seal poked its head out of the water. Soon, however, he realized he could veer toward the right and end up on solid, snowy land. He sped his gate to a trot as he headed toward our zodiacs. All the zodiac drivers had positioned the boats with the bow facing away from land for a quick get away. Each zodiac promptly retreated as the bear quickly neared!
By this time, our one hour zodiac cruise had turned into two hours. It was time to head back to the ship. The bear trotted over the rocky terrain as he followed us along the shoreline. Our hands and feet were noticeably numb again without the distraction of the largest living carnivore! Male bears range from 772-1,433 pounds and are 8.2-9.8 feet long. They are three times the size of a female. Polar bears can swim faster than they can walk (10k/hr vs 5.5k/hr). Perhaps that is why our zodiacs changed positions so quickly!
Upon embarking the ship, I crawled under the covers to try to warm up. When that didn’t work, I walked down the hall to the gym and pedaled on the stationary bike for 20 minutes until it was time for afternoon tea and presentations. We learned in the debriefing polar bears actually evolved from the land mammal brown bear 160,000 years ago. There are two to three thousand in the Barents Sea and 25,000 world wide. The bears in Svalbard live 18-20 years while the bears in the Canadian Arctic live 30 years. The difference in their length of life is due the harsh conditions they face Svalbard. ETB