During the night our ship ventured further north through the pack ice of the Hinlopen Strait and brushed 80˚ North, only a few hundred miles from the North Pole. As we worked our way back we stopped at an impressive colony of thick billed murre along one point of the island Nordaustlandet. Here we saw countless breeding pairs flitting back and forth between the sheer cliff face and the sea. As we’ve learned, whenever you have birds in great numbers you’re also likely to find arctic fox. Sure enough, before too long we saw a spry fox leaping from snow to ice effortlessly, looking for an easy snack. In the process of jumping around the ice, however, the fox managed to bother a glaucous gully, one of the largest gulls, and certainly a bird you would not want to mess with.
As we continued to venture further away from the pack ice of the north we made one last stop to look for the ice bear, or as the Norwegians call them isbjørn. Sure enough, thanks to our captains keen eyes, we saw spot of cream against a white landscape and we approached quietly. This bear was a solitary male, and at first seemed quite uninterested, but eventually perked up and came right up and came incredibly close to the ship.
After having such a close encounter with a polar bear I felt thoroughly warm and tingly. This is, after all, the worlds largest land predator. Perhaps inspired by this the ship ventured on to see another large animal of the Arctic: the walrus. Next stop: Torellnest.
The walrus seal, second largest to the elephant seal, with males reaching upwards of 900 kg (or 2000 lbs) really brings home the message of “In the Arctic, blubber is beautiful.” These massive animals have a thick layer of blubber surrounded by an equally impressive layer of thick skin. Match this with impressive tusks and large seemingly blood-shot eyes and you have an organism that few would wish to contend with. The walrus uses its tusk to fight over females in addition to helping them out of the water and onto a chunk of ice. Walrus also have a bushy set of whiskers which they can use to feel to ocean floor with incredible detail in search of their favorite food mussels.