Beluga whales often transit the narrow sound near Bourbonhamna. The adults are pure white and the younger animals a mottled grey colour. They are the only whales that can articulate their heads to nod and turn sideways. It is estimated that there are approximately five to ten thousand belugas in the Svalbard population. The beluga has no dorsal fin, a diagnostic feature of other whale species that live in the high Arctic such as the narwhal and bowhead. Since a dorsal fin could be damaged when the animal surfaces in areas with ice, it has been postulated that the lack of dorsal fin is an adaptation to living in waters that are frequently covered by ice.
We will search for the belugas and then hope to go ashore at Bourbonhamna. A hunter’s cabin, grinding wheel and two overturned boats are points of interest a short walk away at Ingebrigstenbukta. However, it is the massive piles of beluga whalebones that catch everybody’s attention. The bones and all the artifacts are protected by the Svalbard Government and cannot be removed. While wandering amongst these bone relics we may also expect to glimpse dozens of reindeer in the area.
Landing at Dolerittneset near Kapp Lee, we will remark on the lush vegetation of this region, although in the high 70’s of latitude. This site has a large scattering of reindeer antlers, but it is the plethora of ancient whalebones that makes the landing memorable. Some 400 years ago whales were slaughtered here and were hunted almost to extinction in the waters of Svalbard. Now nature has turned the decaying old bones into items of beauty. Time and the elements have altered their original shape and sculptured them into works of art. They are painted with luxuriant blankets of green mosses and grasses, spattered with blotches of black and orange lichen, and framed with purple saxifrage, yellow cinquefoil and white sandwort. Now, even after death, the noble whale supports life by robustly protecting the delicate flora from the harsh winds and providing nutrients to ensure their survival.
Glacier-filled bays abound in Hornsund and we will sail our expedition vessel into one of these bays for a close-up view of the glacier. The entire archipelago of Svalbard is a lesson in glaciology and our onboard guides will use hikes and zodiac cruises as classrooms for continuing tuition on the formation of this fantastic landscape.