Updated: Nov 18, 2022
A bird, a curious mix of dark grey ( or is it more brown ? ) and white – brownish wings and a white head and belly - came close to our ship gliding elegantly behind us.
“ The Northern Fulmar. It likes to follow ships and glide behind it. It was believed that the souls of the seamen who die at sea are in these birds and that is the reason they follow ships”, said Vide our guide.
While polar bears get the maximum attention, there was no dearth of other wildlife, especially birds.
We saw a lot of the Little Auks, closer to Longyearbyen. I found them to be totally adorable. Tiny little things, they seemed to be forever in a state of frenzied panic. Wings beating furiously, flying usually in a single file, close to the surface of water, they always seemed in a tearing hurry to reach their destination. As if, they had just heard of a medical emergency in the family on the other side of the city, and they just HAVE to reach there quickly.
There they go haring across to attend to some emergency !
And then, of course, there were the sea gulls, the kittiwakes and the black guillemots which looks awfully similar to the little auks.
The guillemots too are in a rush...its a surprise that their wings don't fall off in exhaustion :)
One often found a sea gull or a kittiwake sitting regally on a piece of ice or in a not exactly very disciplined line on a larger piece of ice, inspecting us solemnly. If something spooks them, they will all fly off in a noisy splutter of wings.
An intoxicating mix of blue and white as seagulls and kittiwakes take off in a hurry
Poetry in motion
However, the bird that causes the most excitement was the Puffin. Also called as the Clowns of the Sea which, I guess, would explain why so many love them.
They don’t look as if they are meant to fly, but out of sheer pigheadedness decided to. They aren’t sleek, they don’t look elegant in the air and they land rather clumsily but maybe its those large colourful beaks or, its simply their clownish behaviour, that makes them wildly popular.
In water, the Puffin can look almost regal :)
For me, puffins take me back to two names from my distant childhood. – Huffin and Puffin, from Enid Blyton’s book, The Sea of Adventure. It was with considerable nostalgic delight that I informed my sister that I saw both Huffin and Puffin !
It was not always the birds that kept us busy. We often saw a seal basking on ice, regal in its disregard for us and, of course, there really was no dearth of walruses around us.
A Bearded Seal gives us a shy glance
A Harbour Seal opens a sleepy eye to gauge us
Once, we witnessed the incredible sight of two reindeers who seemed to have embarked on a long sea journey. This was strange, since they had low chances for survival after the prolonged exposure to the cold waters.
There were occasions when there would be a frantic banging of our door informing us about a whale sighting. We would rush out with our cameras, stand at the front, eyes peeled out to watch the tell tale spout of water that a whale gives.
Once, while following a blue whale, it vanished for several long minutes and then we heard a ‘whooosshhh’ right next to us. This majestic and incredibly huge creature had surfaced right next to our ship and then ever so slowly, sunk back to the dark and mysterious depths of its watery home.
However, the highlight of our on-the-deck experience came right at the fag end of our trip.
Belugas are white whales and are possibly the most distinctive of whales. Their colour apart, they have an oddly shaped head ( which gives them a rather lovable, cuddly look ), ensures that you can’t wrongly identify a beluga. They are also quite a noisy bunch, always emitting a series of clicks, whistles and squeals which naturally led them to be called as Sea Canaries.
And, there they were. A small pod of 9-10 belugas, right in front of our ship.
A stunning image captured by my friend MJ ( Insta : wildlifewithMJ ) with his drone
They are known to have a curious nature and that was evident in the casual manner in which they approached the ship. The noisy group played around the ship, diving under the ship and coming up on the other side, sending us seemingly, mature adults running from one side of the ship to the other side, in breathless, childish excitement.
After an enchanting performance around our ship, they finally agreed that they had better things to do and turned away.
I watched them swim away, squealing and whistling, frolicking in the water, their white figures distinctive against the blue of the water, the brown hills in the distance, calm witness to our magical experience and not for the first time during this trip, a deep sense of gratitude filled me.
What a truly magical place.
PS : The cover image is another breathtaking drone shot taken by my friend MJ ( Insta : wildlifewithmj )