7/30/2013 3:40:28 PM
Polar Bears in the Mist
Peter and I giggled in delight, like children in an ice cream parlor, as we pulled into the port in Longyearbyen and set our eyes on the dear lady Stockholm. We couldn’t believe our luck. We had been invited yet again to join Polar Kruetzfahrten on a cruise in the Arctic. This time we had the good fortune to travel aboard the M/S Stockholm, a beautiful 12-passenger Swedish vessel built in 1953.
Peter Laufmann has become one of my favorite traveling companions. He is a journalist for Natur, a publication in Germany, and we have been working together to document the story of the Stockholm. We were asked to come along as a media team, but I think Polar Kruetzfahrten partially just enjoys our company and the humor we bring to the group.
The Stockholm is like the girlfriend you always wish you had. She has classic style, old-fashioned sophistication, but the newest technology. She is burly at the core, almost hulk-like in her strength, but delicate from afar and soft on the eyes. She always smells good, has curves in just the right places, and is a safe haven during a stormy night. “And she doesn’t talk too much.” Peter said between a chuckle and a sip of tea.
On the second night of our trip we arrived at the northernmost island in Europe, accompanied by floating pieces of sea ice. From my limited perspective it appears that there is much more sea ice than last year at this time.
By morning we were in the thick of it. We crossed 81 degrees north, a mere 9 degrees from the North Pole. Mist muddled the horizon and broken puzzle pieces of sea ice disappeared into the fog. We came across our first bear, a dead one. The carcass of a polar bear lay upon a floating piece of ice, picked clean except for the bones and pelt. A paw was strewn a few feet from the body, claws intact. I was overwhelmed by a hollow feeling: a mixture of disgust, sadness, and understanding. There are many reasons that the bear could have died: perhaps it was old age, or an attack from another bear; conditions being what they are in this particular location, hunger was not likely the cause.
Shortly after that we came upon a very healthy male polar bear. He sauntered up to examine us more closely. He was quite clean and had a larger-than-average girth. His condition was encouraging. We have had record-breaking decreases in sea ice coverage for the last six years. A more average winter (unlike the previous year’s mild one) gives me hope. Will this summer possibly be better? Time will tell.
We joined Captain Per afterwards and scanned the misty horizon for hours without luck. Around midnight the captain found a sizeable piece of sea ice and wedged the Stockholm in place for the night, watching carefully as a deck hand climbed overboard to pound an anchor into the thick white mass. I snuggled into the top bunk bed of our cabin, rolling over every few hours and opening one eye just in case a furry white friend decided to peep into our porthole and say hello. What a picture that would be I thought as I drifted into slumber-land.