Polar bear in the morning

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

One hour ago my telephone rang. 5:32. I picked up the phone. “Polar bear at the port side” I was told. I put on some overclothes over my pyjamas took the photo backpack and the big lens and walked outside. And there it was: I big polar bear quite near the ship. It had already circled the stern of the ship and was now starboard side.

It sniffed curiously around and was interested in all these smells the ropes emitted. And unfortunately is was quite interesting in the air sampling station as well. I hope that all the cables survived.

When it didn’t find anything of interest it slowly walked away into the fog that had started coming up.

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 17 and 18: An incredibly beautiful day on the ice

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Day 17 and a bit of 18 · 7 and 8 March 2022

7 March

We have arrived at a place somewhere between Svalbard’s second largest island Nordaustlandet (14.443 km²) and the easternmost island Kvitøya (682 km²). No one lives permanently on these islands.

The ice experts have found an ice flow and examined it. The ice near the ship has some holes so the dress code is survival suits for the first time. In opposite to the formerly used Regatta suits they have attached boots and neoprene arm and neck cuffs. They shall keep you warm and dry in case you fall into cold water – or in our case break through the ice.

I am very interested to join and observe ice coring, a missing link on this expedition. I wasamhowever quite doubtful whether I will be allowed to enter the unreliable ice on this station. But I am lucky again, I may follow M. and L. onto the ice.

Earlier I was told that I may join the scientists taking ice cores but won’t get the opportunity to take ice cores by myself. That’s understandable. To my huge surprise – and delight! – plans were changed: L. shows me how to do it once and then it’s up to me to take five more ice cores. Give me snow or ice and something to play with and I’m happy ;-).

No, I’m no experiences ice corer after five cores. But at least I get an idea and a bit of a routine. In measuring snow depths, ice depths, the freeboard and writing down the values with a pencil. In mounting the large ice core attachment onto the electric drill and removing it after coring. In putting the ice core onto the gutter-shaped cutting board without flooding the electric drill or touching the snow (happened once – sorry!). While M. is cutting the core into slices and putting them into wide-necked plastic bottles I continue with my work. And I have to continue, because I’m still slow and M. shall not wait too long. I think, I could do that for weeks. Standing on the ice and drill cores out of the sea ice.

I have asked Pernille to take some photos from me while coring. These are probably the only photos that prove that I actually did something on the expedition beside of taking photos.

Photo credit: Pernille Amdahl, Nansen Legacy –tusen takk!

And the afternoon? I am allowed just to go onto the ice once more as long as I find some team lead to join. I find one and so get my 7th opportunity on this cruise. Two and a half more hours on the ice. I overhear a radio message. No polar bear warning but the information that our ice flow drifts with more than 2 km/h and the water depth is decreasing. This could damage instruments when they are too deep in the water.

Just some more photos:

And later, when we are on the ship again another polar bear approaches. This time it is a curious one that is very interested in the scientist’s equipment. And since it could harm the bear when it eats cables or plastic it is shooed away with a flare gun. **BANG**. It gallops some metres and then walks away. No polar bears were harmed and as far as I know no cables.

By the way – it was a good decision to use the survival suits. One of the scientists went through the ice today. All of a sudden and quite near the ship. It did not take long to pull the scientist out of the water but without the survival suit this would have been a very wet, cold and unpleasant experience.

8 March

The next day some additional measurements are done on the ice and then we leave last ice station of Arven etter Nansen JC3.

Ha det bra, Arctic sea ice. Farewell! It was a great pleasure to meet you and I definitely will miss you!

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 13 and 14: Polar bear ahead!

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Day 13 and 14 · 3 and 4 March 2022

3. March 2022, the second ice day at P7. I have polar bear watch on the bridge at 9:30 +2h so there is some time to relax after breakfast. While I am writing my diary there is a loudspeaker announcement, the first one on this journey:

Polar bear at the front of the ship.

I grab my camera equipment including the large telephoto lens and slip into my Canada Goose clothes. The best deck at the front of the ship is the helicopter deck and there I go.

I am not alone. Ice station was about to begin so some scientists were already clad in Regatta suits. Now they stand at the rail watching. But where’s the polar bear? I cannot see it. Until I go to the rail as well and look straight down. Whoa!

It is hard to believe, but this is my very first photo of a polar bear taken in the wild. Not some blurry spot far in the distance but a polar bear less than 10 metres away – vertically. It is quite interested in the icebreaker with all these funny colourful beings that has appeared in his world.

We are only guests in the Arctic world of the Polar Bears. We are not allowed to chase them off just to do our work. We are not allowed to chase them off to prevent them from destroying scientific equipments. We humans do not matter. Only the polar bears do. But we are allowed to chase them off for two reasons:

  • The polar bear should not eat plastic, rubber or other materials that could harm it.
  • The polar bear should not learn, that it is a nice experience to visit humans and teach this to its cubs. This could result into dangerous encounters in the future.

The polar bear realises that the ship’s bow is boring and continues to Z’s tent, sniffing and licking around ther…

**BANG** – a loud noise alarms me. **BANG** again. K. has used a flare gun to shoo the polar bear away before it starts eating the equipment. The flare gun is not used to hit a target but to make a loud noise. The noise however does not frighten the bear at all and K. gives some more shots. The bear decides that this sucks and slowly continues its way over the sea ice. Even when I have started my polar bear watch on the bridge I can see it in the far distance.

When I am on the sea ice again the afternoon to help K. with the Blueye ROV I see the armed polar bear guards with other eyes. It comforts me even more, that a whole team protects us – three watches on the bridge and several guards on the ice. Polar research works only in a team.

By the way: I am allowed to steer and control the underwater vehicle. It is not easy because the ROV lags a lot and the tension in the cable doesn’t make things easier. But in the end I manage to navigate it back to the ice hole again and we get it out of the water. It has some technical issues, probably because of the cold.

In the evening I stand on the deck and look over the ice.  It was become slightly colder, -26 °C and the air is crisp. Snow and ice look as if carved from marble in the sharp spotlights of the ship.

Later this night a female polar bear with a cub is spotted. And another single bear. I miss them, exactly as I missed the walrus encounters and that of the rare bowhead whale. What this ship misses is some kind of messaging system that informs you in these cases. You cannot be everywhere and you have to sleep sometimes.

The next day I help A. and B. in the benthos lab again. When I go to the locker room to get rid of my boots for lunch I meet E., who is putting on the Regatta suit. Why that? E. tells my another polar bear has been spotted, a kilometre away.

Shortly later we stand on the helicopter deck again and watch the other polar bear approaching. This time I see it when it is still pretty far away, but it discovers our ship and comes nearer and nearer and nearer.

This bear however is less interested in us and just passes by. Good for him and less noisy for us, no flare gun involved this time.