Every day, we are not wondering if we will see a polar bear, but how many! Concerning the seals, we cannot count them anymore. 2 days ago, we could see 12 polar bears in the same time from the boat, including 4 cubs. Females are always very careful to protect their youngs from starving males, impressive pursuits sometimes start suddenly. The carefree cubs, playful and curious, are only few weeks older than Léonie, and they grew up in the same environment. But Léonie is from Lion... And our Léonie's weight only doubled since her birth, while polar bear milk is so rich that cubs could multiply their weight by 100, from 500g (born around New Year) to 50kg now (10kg when going out of the den late March). This morning, a polar bear was hunting a seal at less than 100 meters from Vagabond, diving very carefully to hide himself in a hole. In vain. Open water is at 300 meters from us now, and pack ice is getting very fragile.
Our dog Frost burst his mouth out. When picking up the banger sent by France to dissuade a too curious polar bear from coming any closer, he was certainly not expecting such a result. Luckily, the polar bear ran away, Frost isn't badly hurt, and he can hear again. Later, another polar bear was watching our original team passing at a good speed on the flooded pack ice: the 3 dogs first, then me, then the pulka (with riffle, video and tripod), then France towed behind and carrying Léonie under her jacket. So skiing we suddenly reached the ice edge. The bad weather took away most of the surroundings pack ice, and open water is at only 2km from Vagabond now. Seals' resting area and bears' hunting field have reduced as much. We ate our last fruit, our last newspaper is getting old, but radio is helping us to think about what's happening in the rest of the world, and despite everything family life is quite peaceful here.
Eric is interviewed by Arielle Cassim on Radio France Internationale this Wednesday 27th June at 1:40pm (11:40am UTC).
Léonie is 4 months old today, her weight doubled since her birth!
3 polar bears, including a cub, shared the leftovers from a seal devoured not long before by another bear. Fascinating show we could see yesterday from Vagabond, while the sun was illuminating again the pack ice, after 3 days of wet fog (the opportunity to go on a film cure on board). Another seal, so far more fortunate, took up residence close to the hole I'm using since early April to do the hydrographical measurements with CTD. Melting is not early this year, although some flowers are appearing, but snow is more covering the land than previous years at this time. Skiing conditions on pack ice are still very good, allowing some fast trips around with the dogs. We sometimes need to exercise authority to control them, when we find ourself face to face with a very young reindeer for instance! Nevertheless, if polar bears visits are increasing, this is because pack ice is receding, we should soon see open water...
Summer is tomorrow. At the lowest of its course, in the middle of the 'night', the sun will be at 11°20' above our horizon. It will be the altitude of the sun in the sky of Paris at 20:25, then at 21:02 at Brest, by comparison (local time). As you can imagine, our solar panels are working continuously, and without heater, under the panoramic roof of Vagabond, temperatures can reach 25 to 30°C! While outside, we have around zero temperatures. So when the sky is clear, no fuel is used to heat, to light, or to make electricity (deep freezer, computers, radios, phone, CD player, charging various batteries...). A little gas for cooking only. And as we are moving around with dogs, no engine neither exhaust fumes are disturbing Inglefield's bay. So we are waiting for thaw, knowing the privilege it is to be here at this time of the year. For the last 6 weeks, and for about 4 weeks more at least, only a helicopter can reach us. The snow melting and the rivers opening make any travel difficult by land, while pack ice and shallow waters make our favourite bay inaccessible by sea.
Pack ice is smooth now. Snow has melted, and melting water froze again, in contact with sea ice. Like an ice rink, on which it is easy to travel on skis, with dogs or snowkite depending on wind. Even so I need more than 3 hours to go and do a CTD cast, compare to less than one hour with snowmobile before. But what a pleasure to observe more calmly a polar bear cub playing next to his mother, or a young seal lying near to the hole he will dive through if the polar bear is coming too close. On land, snow is loosing ground and areas without snow are welcoming the birds, coming back. Brent geese are showing off, purple sandpipers are forcefully looking for their food, great skuas are gliding, kittiwakes are gathering and shouting 'kitti-wake'... their presence is reassuring us: summer is coming, pack ice will certainly break-up this year again. Be patient!
Océanopolis and CEMPAMA is organising the event "Plancton of a day, plancton of the world", in the context of the Oceans World Day; there will be a live phone call this morning between the public and Vagabond
Un nouveau dossier sur la banquise est en ligne sur le site de Futura Sciences, qui se consacre à la vulgarisation de la science pour tous et dans tous les domaines. Découvrez le dossier et la carte blanche.
Fabrice came to Vagabond last Saturday on skis, 45km without stop from Svea (the closest civilization), helped with a kite for some kilometres. In his pulkas, some mail for us and 10 kilos of fresh food! After few jumps on pack ice with his snowkite, to amaze Léonie on her 3 months anniversary, he left yesterday with our snowmobile, which is now in a safe place for the summer. At Vagabond's wintering location, the snowmobile would be at the mercy of polar bears, and we would probably find it in bad conditions in October, when we'll come back for the fourth winter. For now, pack ice is still very good and experiments keep going by dog sledge. Polar bears are showing up a bit more these days, especially a male following a female for 3 days, they already passed 3 times at Vagabond.
It was hot last Tuesday, also France, Léonie and I, with the dogs, could go skiing without jacket. Back just before 11pm, the sun was still high! But conditions can change quickly and around 1am, for the daily CTD cast, I was going on pack ice in the fog. Temperature is lower in the middle of the night, and snow is then harder.