At sea in East Greenland

Jun 19, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer

Having steamed overnight from Svalbard on the National Geographic Explorer, we awoke with great memories of a few busy (but wonderful!) days. Indeed, the relaxed day at sea was welcomed by all aboard, and with it, the opportunity to catch up on some rest! As we approached the pack ice of East Greenland, visibility decreased, and most of the day was spent peering through a milky filter with occasional clear patches. Wildlife was sparse but interesting, with harp seals making occasional appearances in small groups swimming ahead of the vessel. Known as ‘ice obligates,’ some species, including harp seals, need to stay close to ice to survive.

Brünnich’s guillemots, little auks, and our regular fulmars and kittiwakes kept us company all day.  Added bird interest came via a group of three pomarine skuas, which are scarce in the area, and a very lost barn swallow that perched on various parts of the ship throughout the morning. Incidentally, we also received word today that a couple of vagrant bird species we recorded in Svalbard a few days ago were actually quite rare visitors: a swift (the 13th on record) and a willow warbler (only the 5th ever recorded here)!

On the face of it, a day spent shrouded in fog could have been quite boring, but in this part of the world, even boring is special. Outside, the freezing air clung to faces, and the crisp clean air came in reinvigorating and replenishing deep breaths. The silence of fog is a wonder in itself, and the virtually silent engines of Explorer didn’t intrude on the magical experience. With an evident light swell, the dense, brash ice was in constant movement, swishing and whispering secrets that the contemplative among us strived to understand.

Of course, no day at sea can pass without our naturalists and other speakers vying for an opportunity to impart their knowledge. As a result, we heard three wonderful talks today: Stefano Pozzi gave great insight with his informative lecture on Svalbard’s polar bears; Global Perspectives guest speaker Ari Trausti Gudmundsson enlightened us on the politics of the Arctic; and Dan Westergren, a National Geographic photographer, spoke about how to improve our photography skills by incorporating a ‘sense of place’.

The usual fine food, merriment, and conversation finished off a quietly impressive day in the East Greenland ice.

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About the Author

Ciaran Cronin

Ciaran Cronin


Since developing an interest in wildlife as a young teenager Ciaran has devoted most of his waking hours (and many of his sleeping ones too!) to the study of nature, and has found many devious ways of marrying his love for wildlife with other aspects of his life. With postgraduate qualifications as an ecologist, he currently runs an ecological consultancy in Ireland, advising on incorporating wildlife protection into developments such as windfarms and national infrastructure projects. An ornithological and marine mammal specialist, he has a wide range of field skills as well as comprehensive knowledge of a wide range of other species groups. He has worked with both British and Irish government departments surveying seabirds and mammals, and he trains new surveyors in survey techniques and identification. Fortunate to have been able to immerse himself in the field, Ciaran loves to share this knowledge and enjoys engaging with people of all interest levels, on all things wild.

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