On our first morning on the ship we awoke to quite a treat: whales everywhere!
We observed humpback whales feeding quite close to the ship, occasionally flashing their tails (fluke) to us before diving down. We also observed the humpback whales in a cooperative feeding strategy where one will blow a “net of bubbles” to trap fish while another will swim up the column of bubbles to enjoy a fishy treat.
The humpback whales weren’t alone, for we also saw a group of fin whales incredibly close to the ship! Fin whales are the second largest whale in the world, and although they were hunted during much of the 20th century for their blubber, oil, and baleen, they are making a comeback. It was especially heartening to see a young fin whale calf close to the ship, even showing us her belly at one point.
As we continued on our way to Hornsund we encountered some more wildlife: puffin, northern fulmar, and a large group of harp seal!
Between the clicking and whirring of camera motors and the excitement that’s buzzing around the ship I try to stop and take a breathe and look around me. I’m in the middle of the Arctic ocean, on the top of our planet, arguably one of the wildest and most remote places on the planet and it is abundant with life. Though this is a harsh environment from the perspective of mammals like me, this place is the only place in the world that many of the animals we’ve seen this morning want to be.
I look around at the bright blue sky, smell the salty air, gaze across to the mountains with massive glaciers flowing straight into the sea and smile. I can already tell that this is going to be a fantastic expedition.
After enjoying our pre-breakfast wildlife extravaganza we headed into Hornsund, a fjord on the southwestern tip of Spitzbergen.
While in the fjord we see a pair of walrus lazily lounging on a piece of ice, aware of the ship, but mostly unconcerned.
After spending some time admiring a pair of walrus, mountains, glaciers, and small icebergs floating in the fjord we headed for a rocky point within Hornsund called “Gnålodden.”
Here on Gnålodden, which roughly translates to murmuring cliff, we hear much more than a murmur. This place is home to a large colony of black-legged kittiwake, a small and abundant gull in the Arctic. As we roam across the tundra and scramble across the rocks we admire a the sheer abundance of birdlife, and keep our eyes open for arctic fox that can often be found near bird colonies.
Another site we came upon was a trappers cabin. While it may look old and unused (we found a large drift of snow in the cabin as a matter of fact) this cabin and others like it are still used every winter.