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.