Published: August 10th 2012August 6th 2012
Big day today. We zodiaced out to an island called Phippsoya. On the way were half a dozen curious walrus, popping their heads up and having a look. There were more on the beach – maybe a pile of twenty? They lie around together in groups, flopping about on top of each other, scratching, rolling. They are most ungainly on land and can weigh up to 4000lb. Whilst they could attack a human if cornered, they are quite indifferent to our presence and make no effort to get off the beach or come towards us.
Off in the distance someone spots a white blob. It is literally a speck, but it appears to be moving. Yes it is a polar bear. Fortunately it is on another island across the sound, so we don’t have to immediately evacuate. We jump back into the zodiacs and head over to about 100m off shore, down wind, and watch. At this time of year, bears who are away from the ice are quite happy just to sleep on land and conserve energy. They can go months without eating. But they would just as easily have a side dish of human if it were served
to them, so we don’t get close at all. But it is close enough to photograph. Guides suggest it it quite young and in good physical shape – the rumours of the demise of the bear are somewhat overstated. There are thousands in this part of the world and they are well and truly the top of the food chain. They can swim for hundreds of miles, and are faster than a zodiac in the water. On land they can outrun humans and not get puffed. The guides on our boat have never had to shoot a bear, but they treat things incredibly seriously.
Their code of conduct suggests that we must not approach an animal such that it causes them to change their behaviour. Given that so much of their energy is spent staying warm, distracting them, scaring them, chasing them is not on. In the case of the polar bear, it would also be really stupid!
Back to the boat for lunch (another four course buffet). The boat travels to a low island called Lågaoya, where we go for a nature walk. This island has a security camera, watching for illegal activities but also monitoring the animal behaviour for scientific purposes. Barren and windswept are the words I would use. It is good to get out and stretch the legs. One of the guides is keen to discuss the merits of every leaf, flower, moss and lichen we see and progress is slow so we join a different group. A Hamish Blake look-alike makes no pretence of knowing about anything natural; he just keeps walking. Gun at front is the rule.