August 3, 2014 – Andøyane and Monacobreen
Posted on August 6th, 2014
By early morning, ‘Le Boreal’ reached the Andøyane Isands in Liefdefjorden, which means “love fjord” in Dutch. The islands are low-lying but are known to be rich in bird-life and occasionally frequented by polar bears.
Almost immediately after the Zodiacs launched from the marina on ‘Le Boreal,’ a polar bear was sighted! One by one, the boats gradually approached. The bear was feasting on a carcass, which definitely did not look or smell fresh. We were lucky enough to watch the bear feed and this provided an excellent opportunity to photograph this magnificent animal. Mats Forsberg, our polar bear specialist, informed us all that she was a large healthy female, around 10 years old, but surprisingly without cubs for an unknown reason.
The first group then swapped roles with the second, and we immediately went in search of the bear again. By this time, she had finished feeding and was falling asleep next to the carcass. After taking some photographs of her stretched out and snoozing, we cruised around the other islands in search of seabirds. Another polar bear appeared, having swum across the fjord. It was a small, fat and very healthy male, estimated to be 5-6 years old, and behaved very aggressively to take ownership of the carcass. This was a very interesting interaction to witness, with the younger bear promptly taking over the carcass.
Back on ‘Le Boreal’ and after our excited conversations about the polar bears, we enjoyed a fascinating talk by Professor James McClintock , A&K’s resident climate change expert. He revealed the ways in which the polar regions are changing, with particular reference to his studies in Antarctica. We learned that both poles are the fastest warming regions on the planet, that sea ice has retreated by 40 percent since the 1970s and that ocean acidification in the Arctic is already having severe consequences. He then explained the impact these changes will have on the various species of wildlife found in the Arctic and the ways that humans have contributed to these changes. Many of these issues are examined in greater detail in his fantastic book Lost Antarctica.
In the afternoon, we moved further down Liefdefjorden and anchored a short distance from the calving front of the large tidewater glacier, known as Monacobreen. The glacier is named after Prince Albert I of Monaco, who was a keen oceanographer, and funded and led a number of expeditions on Svalbard. We promptly set off on Zodiac cruises through the ice and along the margin of the tidewater glacier. A variety of birdlife fed on the nutrient rich waters that flow out from the glacier. We were also able to observe a number of glaciological and geomorphological features, which revealed how far the glacier has retreated since it was first mapped by early expeditions in 1906 and 1907.
Back on board and fresh from our rooms, we met the Expedition Team for our recap before dinner. Mats Forsberg talked about the behaviour of the polar bears we had witnessed in the morning and our geologist, Jason Hicks, described the glaciological features we had seen over the last two days.
Meanwhile, ‘Le Boreal’ was on its way towards the Arctic pack ice.