It was the last day of our voyage. We were heading back to Longyearbyen. It had been a very successful expedition. Two very sharp-eyed local guides had found us eight different individual Polar Bears and we’d had the opportunity to spend many hours in their company. We had seen Walruses by the dozen and had close encounters with other seals. We visited bird cliffs and watched Reindeer and Foxes. Pete Oxford Expeditions had delivered everything on the packet and more.
Pete has a childlike engagement with the natural world. He is enthusiastic, energetic but I would not have chosen the word excitable until this happened on our port side. He yelled “There she blows”, so loudly it was a wonder the whales were not frightened away.
Blue Whale, mother and youngster. We had learnt by marine radio that there had been sightings and now we were lucky enough to find them near us. Early in the trip we had seen some Belugas at a distance but they had paid us no mind. This duo seemed to enjoy our company and swam along side us for a while.
One Captain Pool made a voyage to Svalbard in 1612 and reported that the sea was so full of whales that it was almost necessary for the ship to break its way through. Whaling commenced in earnest soon after. Initially it was shore based. As numbers declined it was necessary to take to the high seas and it was relentless …
“So little by little they wipe out the whale until they are all gone – and the winter take back its undisturbed control of the land” (Nansen 1920).
Norway continues to hunt whales but it restricts the numbers and takes only Minke Whales which are not endangered. Blue Whales are increasing in numbers but there is a long way to go before ships will have trouble finding a way through the crowd.
Eventually they tire of us and make a deep dive …
I am left with tears in my eyes.