Saturday, 1 February 2014

Wildlife of the Arctic: whales, seals and walruses

 Whilst I was excited to see the landscape of the Arctic, walk the shores and spot huge glaciers, I was mostly anticipating the possibility of seeing the diverse wildlife.

Nothing was every guaranteed, but the omens seemed positive when we spotted a blue whale early on our second day. The sighting was announced over the tannoy just after breakfast, and I couldn't rush out of our cabin quick enough - this was the whale I'd hardly dared hope we'd see. We dashed onto deck just as it breached the surface, sending tufts of water high into the air with a loud sigh before disappearing beneath and re-emerging a great distance away less than a minute later, demonstrating just how huge it was. It stuck close to our ship for fifteen or so minutes, once giving us a glimpse of its beautiful tail, before moving away and out of sight.

Our whale encounters were not quite over though - the following day we were sat in zodiacs gazing up at a glacier when our driver pointed out a pod of belugas leaping through the waves. They were quite a distance away, and I would never have picked them out myself, their white bodies looking exactly like small blocks of ice. I tried my best to photograph them, but even with the zoom lens they are barely recognisable unless you know what you are looking at.

One afternoon we landed on a gorgeous beach, the skies a vivid blue, to be greeted by a mass of mottled brown - walruses lounging in the sun. Some slept, occasionally whacking each other with powerful tails, whilst others swam in the water, playfully tackling each other with sharp tusks and loud grunting, sometimes coming very close to check us out as we tried to keep our distance.

Although almost demonic in appearance, with small, sharp eyes, gaping mouths and powerful bodies, they had a strange sort of charm, and I enjoyed our hour spent watching them. As we moved to a new area the following day, seals played in the water not far from the boat, their small, smooth bodies and gentle faces a complete contrast to the walruses.

But what of the main draw of the Arctic, those cute but deadly mammals, polar bears? Stayed tuned for my next post and our desperate desire to catch a glimpse...


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