7/16/2012 3:54:13 PM

Our First Eisbaer


Outside, the glassy fjord glides by as eiders bob in the wake of our ship. Fulmars soar past, their wing tips mere millimeters from the sea as they dance in the draft created by the boat.

Language lacks words to describe the experiences we've had in Svalbard.

On the third day of our journey we came to PhipprÌüya, a sandy beach nestled in a wide fjord along the northern coast of Svalbard. This beach is home to a colony of walrus. 

 Walruses bobbing off shore

As we approached them slowly along the shore two of the bulbous mammals waddled into the bay and began to play. The others basked lazily on the shore in a large mound grunting and emitting a foul odor.  In the sea they wrestle and play with ease, the water allowing mobility for the awkward blubber masses. The two in the water curiously swam within 10 meters of the shore where we stood and examined us: strange two-legged creatures hiding behind large lenses. Their size and presence could be felt in the air and their stench became potent. There I stood eye to eye with a walrus, its large black eyes piercing straight into mine, its tusks illuminated, displaying streaks of color and wear over time.  

The harsh environment creates tough animals, durable, and strong. The amount of life here, in such abundance, is truly incredible.

Later that day sea ice appeared on the misty horizon. It slowly but steadily increased in volume. The anticipation among guests built rapidly. Then the announcement came: a polar bear, or eisbaer as they say in Germany, had been spotted with a kill. Fifteen minutes later the ship silently came to stillness next to the bear.

First polar bear 

Everyone rushed about gathering their binoculars and camera equipment as the bear finished up his seal snack. After the first ten minutes of shooting I paused for a moment and put my camera down. I was mesmerized by the beautiful creature. He looked so small and vulnerable among the massive sea. He stuck his nose in the air and wriggled his muzzle. I wondered what he thought of our smell, if it appealed to him, or if he thought "What on earth is that? That doesn't even smell like food."

He put on quite the show, rolling about and posing in curious delight. I began to wonder if people were really present, really absorbing everything, really allowing themselves to be moved. It seemed that nearly everyone was squinting through a viewfinder trying to capture pictures, trying to preserve the moment, instead of living it. Are people really connecting what they are experiencing with the way they live on a daily basis? Will these people go home and plant a garden, learn to compost, or stop using plastic after looking a walrus in the eye? 

 Hamming it up for the cameras

I think about how each of us can help. Today is the day to do that thing you've been meaning to get to: throw a few re-usable grocery bags in the car, insulate your home, attach a milk crate to the back of that old commuter bike in the garage, or vow to stop buying things packaged in plastic. Please, for the eisbaern and the walrus, for the eiders and the fulmars, for the sea ice. Please. And more important, teach your children and tell your friends.

Our thanks to Polar Kreuzfahrten for hosting photographer Kt Miller and Henry Harrison as they gather still photographs and HD footage for PBI's film library.

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