Therese, Arctic GuideWe all find safety where we can. During this trip to the Arctic, when we went on shore, three guides and one husky dog preceded us.  Together, they marked out a triangle-shaped piece of land where we were allowed to walk. Two stood with WWII era wooden rifles and binoculars scanning to the horizon. In this way, as we doddled about the beach or hiked a hill in the snow, we would be safe from an unexpected arrival from a polar bear.


Of course, we all want to see that polar bear, but not one walking toward us. So we were all grateful for the protection even if it seemed a bit restrictive. Even if all I wanted to do was walk into the horizon, bear or not.


Male Common EiderMy journey into the Arctic began in Longyearbyen, the biggest town in Spitsbergen, an island that is part of Svalbard . It’s a town of 2,000 filled with people who like to drink whiskey, a fantastic museum that tells the story of airships trying to fly to the North Pole, and many shops filled with great outdoor gear. Like most northern towns, it looks like a mining town (which it is) with all of its plumbing above ground. It’s not the prettiest place. But it is surrounded by very pretty: mountains covered in snow, and a harbor filled with ships of all sizes. And of course there are great birds everywhere—a special Svalbard ptarmagin, Arctic terns who have just finished their journey from the Antarctic, and Common Eiders galore.



Eiders on nestsOn the edge of town rests a pond filled with the plump black and white Eiders, and their brown mates.  The lady Eider were sitting on their flat, ground level nests. The males busied themselves as males are wont to do (ie: getting into skirmishes with each other). It was a most glorious sight, and all within feet of the road. These Arctic breeding ducks felt safe to sit there because within feet of the pond rest the cages of several dozen husky dogs. From time to time they took up a howl. But most of the time they were quiet. Quiet or not, the huskies provided protection for the ducks: no fox wants to come near them with so many dogs at hand.



Glaucous Gull eating an Eider Egg

It was wonderful to see the birds so relaxed, sunning in the Arctic sun, waddling about, crossing the near-traffic-less road.  Then I noted a fluttering at the edge of the encampment. There, a Glaucous Gull—one of our largest gulls—had taken an egg from a nest. The female tried to protect it, with no luck. And there was the gull, egg cracked open, feasting on the yolk of the Eider egg.


Maybe even the safest spots are not really so safe. 

Reader Comments (1)

Did you see this? Interesting article in the NYT today about Longyearbyen and safety:

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJody Melander

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