Written by Sona Hakhverdyan, master student at Department of Arctic and Marine Biology.
Well… Where to begin. I mean to even even be granted the opportunity to go to the Greenland Sea and study seals, possibly see whales, cool birds, and polar bears?! If you would have asked me 10 months ago if this was even possible I would not even have this in my mind.
First of all, let me point out that our trip to the ice was indeed wavy for the first three days, but once we got there it all settled down. When we arrived, many of us simply stood on the bridge and watched the beautiful ice. There was so much variety in its shapes.
I will not say it was this expedition was a vacation, because it was not. The days started off with breakfast at 07.30, followed by a meeting at 09.00, then everyone got to work. While some did practicals and studied anatomy and physiology of seals, others worked on their report, while others helped out with other projects, so no time was wasted. The days were long and everyone worked until very late, but it was worth it.
Moving on to one of the highlights on this trip and only the second day in the ice. Our group was studying the anatomy of a seal out on the deck. I decided to walk over to the back of the boat, enjoy the view and look at the seals when suddenly, I turn back to my group literally two minutes after I walked away, and they were gone. I looked up to the upper deck and saw a person with a camera and realized… POLAR BEAR. I grabbed my camera and, walked up, and there they were, two magnificient polar bears.
Everybody took a break from their tasks and enjoyed watching them walking, and jumping around on the ice floats, occasionally biting and eating a seal pup. The polar bears also have to eat and that day there were cute Harp seal pups on the menu. The interesting thing was that they ate some, but some they just walked by or just nagged a little bit on their hind flippers and then walked away. I guess they were not that hungry or just bored
One of the polar bears suddenly stood up on his hind legs and started smelling for something. Well… it was us he smelled. He started moving closer to the boat and at the same time following our scent. That was cool. The pictures below show how he was heading towards the boat.
What we saw in the West Ice was the two species of seal, Harp and Hooded seal. The Harp seal pups are those with the white fluffy lanugo fur and Hooded seal pups are called bluebacks because they have this blue/greyish color to their fur. Anyway, the Harp pups were definitely A LOT noisier and sounded very cute but I guess most of us got tired of hearing them all day long.
We witnessed how the mothers recognize their pups by smell and sound. When they touch each other noses they learn how their pup smell. So, there was a large ice float with three pups and two mothers. The third mother resurfaces from the water and gets up on the float and starts searching for her pup. She approaches another mother and they start “fighting”. After a short while, the mother with the pup lets the other mother smell her pup and she realizes that it is not her pup and moves on until the heard the scream from her pup.
On the last day of work out on the ice we had the best weather! Stunning sunrise, sunshine all day and everybody had the chance to stand on an actual ice float! Imagine, you are standing on the ice in the Greenland Sea at maybe 2000 m depth of water, how crazy is that!? Here are pictures of all the amazing people that joined this cruise, our course leader, and the best teachers!
Throughout this expedition we have done a lot of practicals that have provided us with a lot of knowledge, but it is so much more! Even as we enjoyed watching and photographing seals, polar bears, and birds, we observed their behavior. It was fascinating to see how Arctic animals behave in the wild. What we had learned in lectures and seminars preceding the expedition, we were able to apply in the field. There were a number of interesting aspects we saw during our trip, such as how the seal pups are adapted to the harsh environment, how a male Hooded seal displayed his “affection” for a female, how polar bears hunted, and how Arctic birds spend their entire lives out at sea. Having the opportunity to experience all of that was truly amazing, and those are things you usually only see on nature documentaries.
This expedition cruise is part of the course BIO-2310 Arctic biology.