June 23 - On the Way to Franz Josef Land

88.5-84 degrees N

We are getting ready for our stop in Franz Josef Land. The morning begins with a lecture by Jim on “Pinnipeds of the North.” The seal family dates back to 21-24 million years ago. Pinniped means, “winged foot.” Seals used to live on land and what used to be their front feet are now flippers. 

There are three types of seals:

  1. True Seals
    These seals have ears and lack the ability to walk on land, they can lift themselves on the surface of the ice. They have short coats and a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm. Examples are the ringed seal, harp and hooked seal. 
     
  2. Earless
    These seals have a heavy neck and their front flippers can propel them on the ground. They have a heavy, thick coat. An example is the Elephant and Bearded Seal.
     
  3. Walruses
    These seals are earless but can use their flippers to move, they also have a thick layer of skin and a thick layer of blubber. 

Walrus means “tooth walker” they are the third largest marine mammal. They can weigh up to 4000 pounds and be 3-4km long. They eat mainly mollusks. They scrape the bottom of the ocean to gather clams at 12 per minute and store 20-30kg in their stomachs. Their mouths have a strong sucking motion, which allows them to suck the food right out of the shell. They use their tusks to help them out of the water.

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This was a day for polar bear sightings. We see a large male polar bear who has a blood stained mouth. He has just finished eating a seal and is wandering around. He is very curious about our ship and comes up to us to inspect.

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While we are photographing this bear, a female and her two cubs approach us. The cubs are quite playful. One is particularly curious and keeps on pursuing the male bear. Evidently this behaviour is quite rare to see. The male bear is not interested in the female or her cubs since he is quite full of seal. The little cub continues to chase the male bear away. 

Finally, the mother and her cubs leave and the male bear goes in the opposite direction.

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A mother and her cubs approach the ship - one cub is extremely curious and stands on his hind legs with his arms crossed to see what is going on in the ship. 

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  The cub chases the male bear away.

The cub chases the male bear away.

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