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SVALBARD 2013: IV. - Ostrov Lågøya – mroži a já na osmdesáté rovnoběžce, aneb o medvědech ještě napíšu
Views: 938610.10.2013 23:02:33
Hello my dear girls!

21st July 2013
After the amazing experiences and photographic storm of 17th July ( see Svalbard III ) we haven't seen a bear for two days. I think about polar bears (PB), about how difficult it is to find a PB in this spacious area. Unsure, more like. For some time, spoiled by the first encounters with bears, I've thought that bears are easy to come by and that the opportunities to photo them will be yet plenty. I know now that the opportunities are uncertain. Uncertain, because the area in which the polar bears can be found on Svalbard is vast. Difficult also because the bears are quite mobile - their normal speed of walking is 4 to 6 kmph - and they move when they don't sleep, and they sleep for eight hours a day, though they sometimes have an additional "nap". And of course unsure because of the fact that in an area bigger by half than Switzerland, on Svalbard there are roughly "only" 2000 specimen.


Polar Bear. Svalbard. Norway.


With this knowledge, and more for it, we worry for our data, especially those from the amazing 17th July. And so we back up. I from laptop into two external drives, Ondra also into two and the data called "the best of", the treasures obviously, he backs up in USB Survivor (unintentionally funny), and something maybe into CF cards, for which I make fun of him. But really, we appreciate our data more than ever now.

We are following drifting ice further north, over the 80° of north latitude as far as 81°, which is, it transpires later, the furthest north I've ever been. There are bears. We discover four more, but because of the quantity of the ice, we can't reach them on the Zodiac and the boat moves in the ice too slowly to get any closer. One of the bears, number 8, "my one" so to speak, circles the boat curiously, but in the end it changes its mind and disappears. He might have caught the scent of number 7, a female we had seen several hours ago.


Polar Bear. Svalbard. Norway.


And then suddenly no more bears! After two days without their presence, the captain turns the boat south-east, towards Lagoya Island. There is to be found a smallish Walrus colony and nesting place of one or two couples of Sabine's Gull, very rare in Europe.

Sabine´s Gull. Svalbard. Norway.


We can't go ashore near the walrus colony, not even approach too close from the sea, so we circle the island to disembark on the opposite shore. From the Zodiac we observe the beach and the walruses sunbathing there. Absorbed in the sight of dozens of those biggest mammals of the north (with exception to whales, of course), idling about on the beach few metres from the sea, we haven't at first noticed that several of them appeared suddenly around the Zodiac. After their stay in cold water, they are unhealthy deadly pinkish, their bloodshot eyes bobbing at us. They puff mightily, emerging beside the Zodiac, quite close and quite high above the surface of the sea and this one, seeming rather small to us, discovers we are not dangerous, so they bump each other and as suddenly as they appeared they are gone. Their looks deceive a bit. When they normally swim, all you can see from their bodies is a part of their head, eyes, nostrils, and one doesn't realize how surprisingly big the animal is.

Walrus. Svalbard. Norway.


Walrus. Svalbard. Norway.


3 - 3.5 meter big and 1.5 ton of weight, a male with tusks as much as one meter long is a majestic sight on land. But their majesty is spoiled by their "climbing" on the beach: mighty pulling up of upper half of the body and then a fall followed by wavy motion emphasized by waving of the considerable hypodermic layer of fat.

The result of this effort is approximately one meter advance of walrus in the craved direction. Then a rest and after five minutes again: pull up, advance by fall, rest. No wonder that walrus colonies are usually within a reach of sea, only few metres away. These few moments of pulling up, whether for the sake of movement or for the sake of another walrus are worth the waiting.


Walrus. Svalbard. Norway.

Walrus. Svalbard. Norway.


Their clumsiness on land shouldn't be underestimated, though. I should probably point out that they are very sociable, and so on, but that could imply unwanted connotations to human society, so I'll put it straight. They loll over one another on the beach, so closely that a coin wouldn't fall through the mass, they puff from their sleep sometimes a tusk or a flipper rises from the huge sleeping brown heap which rakes like a nearby pig farm, only to fall back into the bog of fat diffluent bodies. It might not look it, but part of this heap of bodies is on the watch out, and though it would seem they don't have to fear anything, if something (a person maybe) got between them and the sea, it would cause their overwhelming gallop into the water. An escape so fast, furious and in its weight so destructive, that not even a polar bear would risk that, and a reasonable person shouldn't either.

Walrus. Svalbard. Norway.


Sink or swim. Polar bears sometimes follow walrus colonies, but to catch a walrus and a grown up, healthy male to that is even for such a predator as the polar bear virtually impossible. Polar bear can't even bite through the walrus's thick skin and if it bites through, it doesn't make much damage. Thick layer of fat underneath prevents the bear's teeth to do any serious harm. And a lethal bite in walrus head, be it only a youngster, bearing in mind the great seaward escape on however slight sign of danger described above, is even for a bear a highly risky way of hunting. And as soon as the walrus is in water, the bear's role is transformed from the hunter to an observer. Risk assessment: would the energy used up during the hunt (hunting success being circa 10%) plus possibility of an injury into the bargain be levelled by acquiring potentially caught food, so those are the dilemma the bear considers and only when despairingly hungry the bear pushes the borders of the risk further...

Walrus. Svalbard. Norway.

Walrus. Svalbard. Norway.


There aren't so many walruses as it would seem on Svalbard, considering the fact that only killer whales and polar bears hunt them and even those only occasionally. After three centuries of walrus hunting, especially for their tusks, there is an estimate of 2000 specimen on Svalbard. Walrus population has been protected by Norway since 1952 and although it grows slightly, the walrus can still be found in Norwegian National Red List. On the whole the Atlantic subspecies of walrus, Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus, counts to 20 - 30.000, comparing to Pacific subspecies Odobenus rosmarus divergens counting 200.000 (Kovacs K.M., Lydersen Chr: Birds and Mammals of Svalbard).

Walrus. Svalbard. Norway


But when I'm lying on the beach, my side gently washed by the Greenland Sea, from which a little away emerges a huge male walrus, rising up in all its might if only to advance a bit towards the herd idling nearby, I feel like it's towering right over me and I think only about photos and I realize having reddened ears stuck from my hat only when the moment is over. About ethology, ecology, oceans level rising and wet boots I think even later...

Walrus. Svalbard. Norway


Bohdan Nemec, the Greenland Sea and Pilsen, Czech Rep., July/September 2013

Translation by Tereza Nemcova, gwareth.tn@gmail.com


Coming next: Whales, Seals and Arctic Foxes


Comments on article 'SVALBARD 2013: IV. - Ostrov Lågøya – mroži a já na osmdesáté rovnoběžce, aneb o medvědech ještě napíšu'
Comment 1-3 / 3
7.7.2014 09:16:18
Marie S
Velký obdiv za tak úžasnou, precizní a krásnou práci na výpravě. Ať se daří i při dalších expedicích a přeji hodně štěstí!
14.7.2014 19:49:28
Bohdan Němec
Marie, mnohokrát vám děkuji za přání i povzbuzení... Bohdan
12.10.2013 14:22:51
Michal Mašík
Fotografie mrožů jsou perfektní. Budí respekt.
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