INTERNATIONAL ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTER — UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA FAIRBANKS

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September 24- polar bears! (and walrus too)

We arrived and anchored in the bay at the Baranov Science Station yesterday during the dark at about 4:30 in the afternoon. When I was in my cabin I glanced out the window and saw a light and thought wow, it was a ship, the first one of the cruise. But, when I went up to the helo deck to get a better view I wasn’t quite sure what it was. All I could see were lights, but they were scattered in the fog among bergy bits that had turned into gigantic icebergs. I went back into the hangar to ask what the lights were and found out it was the Science Station. I still can’t see any land, only fog, drizzling frozen mist, and sparkling water that looks like fireflies. One of the main reasons for stopping at the Station was to deliver fuel.

I don’t think I can even begin to describe today. It was surreal. The day began with a knock on my door at about 5:30 this morning. PhD Student Channing Bolt let me know there was a mama polar bear with two cubs. This was the moment I had been waiting for. I couldn’t get dressed quick enough! When I made it to the helo deck, the darkness had turned into a magic winter wonderland—the Akademik Tryoshnikov was surrounded by enormous icebergs and it was sunny! After the mama bear and her cubs took a saunter and a swim from one ice floe to another, she decided to take a very long nap starting around 6:00, and they were still snuggled when the ship left the Station around noon.

Everyone has been working so hard, and this was an impromptu rest and relaxation for a few hours. We dressed warmly because it was chilly and windy and we set up camp on the helo deck. We brought out camp chairs, binoculars, cameras, made cappuccinos, tea; and watched the mama bear and her cubs for hours. There wasn’t much movement. Every once in a while the mama would lift her head, look around and then go back to her cubs. We did take a break for lunch and when we came back she was still napping.

While we were watching the polar bears and aweing at the splendid scene of icebergs, we spotted a walrus right next to the ship. I knew it wasn’t a seal because the head was a lot bigger. It was so fun to watch because it was snorting water out of its nose. It reminded me of a whale blowing water out of its blowhole. We were lucky to see its tusks.

There was a huge discussion about what to name the polar bears. I don’t think we totally agreed on one name. Several names proposed were Bolt for the mamma, and Chan and Ning for the cubs. Another option for the mom was Poppy McPolarface. I liked Polynya. For the walrus we came up with Wilbur.

A lot of excitement today. What a wonderful way to be unwinding from the expedition.

WALRUS

Walruses are the sole surviving members of the formerly diverse family Odobenidae.

Genus Odobenus. Odobenus rosmarus, meaning “tooth-walking sea whale,” referring to a walrus using its tusks to haul out onto ice floes and beaches; rosmarus derives from hvalrossen, the Norse name for walrus. Walrus are found in pack ice and coastal waters of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia. The largest subspecies is the Laptev Sea Walrus. We happen to be in the Laptev Sea right now. Their length can range between 3–7 m (10-12 ft) and they can weigh between 1,200-1,900 kg (2,600-4,200 lb). They are the world’s largest pinniped. (Pinnipeds are a widely distributed and diverse clade (branch) of carnivorous, fin-footed, semi-aquatic marine mammals comprising of walruses, sea lions, and seals). They forage on shallow sea banks at depths to 80 m (260 ft), feeding on mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. Feeding is done by sculling along the sea bottom using highly sensitive whiskers to locate prey in murky light or even complete darkness. Mollusks are rooted out using the hard ridge of the skin on the top of the snout and they also dislodge prey by jetting water from the mouth into the sediment. The high-vaulted palate and piston-like tongue create suction strong enough to pull clams and snails right out of their shells. They also scavenge dead whales, and some old rogue males attack and eat seals.

Walruses are gregarious and haul out in great numbers on beaches and ice floes around openings in the sea ice (polynyas). Uglit—Inuit for a walrus haul-out site—may derive from the loud grunting oogh walruses make when congregating. Other vocalizations include whistles, beeps, boings, rasps, drills and knocks, all of which a courting male walrus can combine into a fugue-like love song.

The melting of the arctic sea ice has greatly impacted walruses, which need the thick sea ice to support their weight. Unlike seals, they cannot swim indefinitely and must rest on a support between foraging dives. (The Arctic Guide by Sharon Chester)

Good night!

Breakfast: oatmeal, meat and cheese

Lunch: kidney bean soup, meat balls and rice

Tea Time: hot dogs

Dinner: chahohbili (steak topped with bacon), corn on the cob and pasta

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