Walruses in Svalbard

Last summer I sailed to the north of Svalbard, in company of a Norwegian group of photographers. While cruising the beautiful fjords, we found a haul-out of some male Walruses in front of a magnificent glacier. We knew this was a spot where we had to spend some time. So I was very happy when we decided to stay all night (it doesn’t get dark here in summer!) on the beach, in company of the Walruses.

We had to be carefull of course, when we landed with the zodiacs on the beach, a Polar bear had just left his tracks on the beach! The bear was gone now, but it could always come back, so we had to keep guard with alarmpistols and guns, and stay in close radio-contact with the ship. Seeing a bear would have been wonderfull, but also meant we probably had to leave the beach immediately and jump back in the zodiacs! You don’t want to take any risk, the bear would probably end up dead anyway if something happens (after -deadly- attacks the bears often get’s killed), and that’s not why you travel to this pristine places off course…

We were ‘lucky’, and no bear showed up all night, and that meant we could keep on concentrating and photographing the huge Walruses, that could weigh up to two tons! With a lot of patient, respect and discipline we got close to the animals, and were able to use all kind of lenses, to show the animals in their arctic environment.

The place was magic, almost completely quiet, except for some Glaucous gull calling, a blowing Walrus now and then, and often some huge ice calving from the glacier, causing a storm sound in the fjord.

In the early morning, after everybody got nice shots during the last hours, some of us were starting to get tired or got cold, so it was time to get back to the ship to catch up with some precious sleep.

Next summer I’m going back to this wonderfull place and hope to spend a night again with my tusked friends!

On one of the landings up north, a Norwegian photographer found an old skull partly hidden in the permafrost. Nobody knows how old it really was, but it could have easily been hundreds of years old. Maybe a victim of the huge slaughtering centuries ago, for the once so precious blubber. Or it died a natural death. After we took some pictures, we burried the skull again, showing the respect it deserved, here in the Arctic. After all the bad news about the disappearing ice on the North Pole, these kind of pictures could become more and more common I’m afraid. If we have to believe some scientists, a picture of a skull on the tundra like this one is probably the only thing that will remind us of the existence of these creatures within fifty years…

I finally started to edit my Svalbard pictures, because I will be giving some lectures in Leuven (between 14u00 and 18u00 in Martelarenlaan 24) on 17/11 about the trips I will be guiding next year, everybody is welcome to come and listen ànd look!

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