I could not have asked for a better last full day on board the National Geographic Explorer. It began like other expedition days, with flexible intentions, and ended with a splash in more ways than one. The plan was to hopefully find a place to land zodiacs in a beautiful location called Hornsund with high peaks and glaciers, and then spend the afternoon looking for marine mammals where the cold and warmer waters meet.
The crew unsuccessfully searched for landing possibilities and walks as we sailed through the Hornsund Fjord, so it turned into a water day: kayaking, zodiac tours, and the polar plunge for about 30 brave souls, including me. My lesson with Ramesh on the first kayak day left me feeling braver and willing to go out in a single, but another guest, Barbara, was in a double and invited me along. We had eaten dinner together several nights before so we were able to skip the introductions and get right on to the business of kayaking in God’s beautiful creation. We would paddle out a bit and then just sit and enjoy the view, talking about family and how we ended up at this place in our lives. One of the wonderful things about this expedition is getting to know so many different people and their stories. It has been a true blessing to spend a week with such caring human beings with a love for nature. At one point in our wanderings we thought we heard a waterfall near the glacier but couldn’t see anything. We found out later from Eduardo that it was the sound of the ice in the water melting.
As soon as we returned the kayak we loaded into a zodiac. Eduardo took us on a tour of the fjord up closer to the glacier and we were able to get right up next to the popping ice. He even heaved a bit of it into the boat. I recorded a small segment and I apologize in advance for the shakiness, I was on a zodiac which you can also hear. Just close your eyes and you’ll hear the popping sounds. Two birds decided to hang out with us as well. I am still not an expert and can only guess that these are Northern Fulmars based on their nostrils and feathers. Bird enthusiasts… let me know if I’m wrong and what they really are please.
In addition to observing glaciers calving, hearing ice popping, and fulmar watching we also came across some very resourceful birds. Nesting in an area out of reach from predators is a good way to protect young. Eduardo brought us close to huge erratics (large boulders leftover from glacial excavation) and we saw several different types of birds nesting on top. There were also many perched on the cliff above just as at Kapp Fanshawe. Fox hang out under the cliffs hoping to dine on a fallen egg but there were none today. You’ll have to look hard to see the birds because they are small and camouflaged on the rock. I took the photo with my phone which is not the best camera so zooming in and cropping did not do any good. It is however waterproof so it was the only camera I took on zodiacs. The boulder is probably ten feet tall, perfect for nesting away from sharp teeth. One of the birds really did not like us getting so close. It kept yelling at us so we respected its wishes and retreated.
During our tour of the fjord we came upon some Vikings! Fortunately for us they were just offering hot drinks to keep us warm in the frigid air. Anders is the one on the left. He is the hotel manager on the National Geographic Explorer and he was so very helpful to all of us high maintenance guests with food issues. Thank you Anders and the rest of the kitchen and dining room staff!
Speaking of frigid, the water was a balmy 32 degrees Fahrenheit when I agreed to jump in. As soon as we docked at the ship I donned my swim suit and headed out to the mud room to await my turn. It all went very fast and even though they said look at the camera, I only had eyes for the water. I tried to do a toe touch but ran out of room so I look rather silly in the photograph. Under the water my brain thought, “Well that’s not very cold.” Next thing I know they are pulling me out, wrapping me in a towel and putting a cup of hot blueberry juice in my hand. That’s when the shivering started. Fiona had an awesome getup for the plunge and of course looked perfect in the photograph. Some voiced jovially that she was cheating because they thought it offered some sort of protection from the cold like a wet suit. It did not.
After warming up and a lovely lunch, Fen Montaigne was to speak in the lounge, this time on the Arctic’s indigenous populations. Just as I’ve said before, scheduling a lounge lecture results in animal sightings, and they of course take precedence for good reason. What happened next may very well be the highlight of the expedition for many of the passengers on this expedition. It was so amazing that it requires an entire post all in itself. The short of it is, we were surrounded by many fine specimens of the two largest whales in the world and witnessed humpback whales feeding just off the bow. There are no words to describe how wonderful an experience this was but I can try. I am working on a post called, Look for the Bubbles, Follow the Birds. As soon as it is done I will link it to this daily log. Watching these beautiful creatures glide through the ocean renewed my desire to see more of Washington’s local wildlife and to preserve their habitat. How can I help my students see the beauty in nature and our responsibility to protect it? These are my thoughts as I complete today’s daily log.