We got up this morning to discover that we have bright sunny skies! Wow! We thought we would have cold, cloudy weather for our whole Arctic expedition! It is still cold, but at least we have sunshine!
MS Expedition is anchored in in Magdalenefjorden. We are surrounded by jagged, snow-covered mountains with glaciers in the valleys. At the end of the fjord are three glaciers, two are retreating glaciers and one is an advancing glacier.There is not much ice in the water here and we don't hear the thundering of the glaicer as we did yesterday.
This morning we are going to shore at on a sandy beach on a point of land called Gravneset, which means "grave site". On this little bit of land are about 130 graves. These are not people who used to live in Longyearbyen. These are the graves of whale hunters (whalers) who use to come here every summer in the 17th and 18th centuries to hunt whales.
When Svalbard was discovered by the Dutch in 1596 no one was living here and no one had ever lived here! What brought the Dutch and others back to Svalbard was that they found out that whales where in the waters here by the thousands! In those days whales where very valuable because of the oil they had in their bodies. This was before oil was pumped from the ground. Whale oil was used for heating, lighting in whale oil lamps, making candles, lubrication, and even making margarine!
In the 17th and 18th centuries the whaling ships that came here were wooden sailing ships that did not have all of the safety equipment that our ship MS Expedition has. Not only did the whalers not know how to swim but if they fell into the water it is so cold they would not be able to survive for more than a few minutes. Because the whalers could make so much money they wanted to come here even though it was so dangerous!
It was written that there were so many Bowhead whales in Magdalenefjord that you could walk from one side of the fjord to the other on the backs of the whales! The Bowhead whales were hunted to almost to extinction. Today the Bowhead whales no longer come to Magdalenefjord. The only things that remain from the old whaling days are the graves of the whalers that died here and are buried here.
We land our Zodiacs® on the sandy beach here to explore the area. We find that most of the snow has melted on the point. We see a little wooden cabin just up from the beach. This is used by park rangers when they are on patrol and studying the area.
Near the end of the point we discover that birds are nesting here. There are no trees here to build nests in so these birds nest on the ground. These birds are Arctic terns.
Arctic terns make the longest migration of any animal on the planet! Each year these years fly over 55,000 miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic! The come for the Arctic summer, then fly south for the Antarctic summer. They really have an endless summer! They migrate these long distances for the abundant food they can find. They eat small fishes and crustaceans.
Arctic terns are medium-sized birds. Adults are 13-14 inches long and have a wingspan of 26-30 inches. Both the males and females have the same coloration and look alike. Compared to many birds Arctic terns have long lives -- up to 30 years! They lay two eggs (or 1-3 eggs) in June which hatch in about three weeks.
We found that the Arctic terns are fiercely protective of their nests! We quickly learned that we had to stay away from the end of the point where the terns were nesting! If we came anywhere near the point the terns dive bombed us! The made load clacking sounds as they swooped down on our heads to scare us away! One of our expedition staff even had their hat stolen by the terns! A tern swooped down grabbed his hat and flew away!
At the beach where we landed some of our guests are taking off their jackets and warm clothes! They are changing into their swim suits getting ready to jump into the freezing Arctic water for a Polar Plunge! They line up, run into the water and just as quickly run back out, quickly dry off and put back on their clothes and jackets as we Zodiac® them back to our ship where they we can jump into our ship's hot sauna to warm back up!
As our Polar Plungers are warming up MS Expedition cruises out of Magdalenefjorden to continue our voyage towards the North Pole!