Day 4: old fossils and young whales

The alarm rang way too soon this morning. Our bodies were still recovering from the yesterday’s glacier hike. As is tradition, I cursed and snoozed the alarm on my phone for a couple of times, before waking up for my morning shower. Traditions.

After breakfast, we found our guide from yesterday waiting for us and a few other people. The plan for today was to drive for a while out of town, then climb some rocks in order to arrive at a place which has abundant fossils lying around for the taking.

Uneven terrain and loose rocks are the best therapy for back pain…

These fossils are from at least 60 million years ago, when the Svalbard islands were home to lush forests and a whole different type of wildlife. It’s strange to imagine, but then again, our brains can hardly understand anything that goes in the thousands, let alone millions.

You feel really small and insignificant when you think about where these islands will be in 60 million years from now.

It’s nice though to look for clues from the past. We found plenty of fossils on our way, which we tried to “hunt” for, with hammers and safety goggles.

The best fossils were on huge rocks that were impossible to hammer down and/or move

It does release some stress to hammer rocks the whole morning. Sadly, that same stress comes right back at you, when you accidentally break the nice fossil you wanted to bring home. As a matter of fact, those rocks break in very unpredictable ways, even though you think you are hitting them in the right place and direction.

We got better and better at spotting fossils on the ground, as the morning went on

After some digging and hammering, we stopped for a nice hot chocolate break, before heading back to base.

From my point of view, the day’s haul was satisfying for a couple of amateurs. We will further analyse our samples once we go back to Italy.

In the evening we joined an “evening” cruise on a small hybrid boat with dinner onboard, which was a very pleasant experience. The ship used only electrical power throughout the voyage, which was impressive.

It was rainy and cold outside, but very cozy inside.

While we went, we managed to see a puffin bird and many different types of seagulls and albatros-like birds. Staying on deck was not easy because of the cold and damp weather, but the sights and the scenery were worth it.

An abandoned Russian mining town lies in the background

The most exciting part of the day had not yet come however. As we approached our mid point before turning back, the captain of the ship informed us that there was a whale nearby.

Soon everybody went on deck to spot the animal, and after a couple of minutes we saw it in all its glory. This was a rather small Minke whale, apparently. It still looked impressively big, even from afar.

As I was busy taking pictures, we spotted three more whales, a lot bigger than the Minke one. They turned out to be three huge and beautiful Fin whales, the second biggest whale species (and mammal, I suppose) on the planet!

The captain managed to follow the whales from a safe distance. Thanks to his experience, we enjoyed a great spectacle as the whales came on the surface to breath and spit high sprays of water. It was awesome.

We went back inside all excited and happy, even though I could hardly feel my fingers because of the cold. What a trip!

But it was not over. As we approached the harbor in Longyearbyen, we spotted a big “herd” of beluga whales. There were at least a dozen of them. They swam past our ship and elegantly swam towards open waters. Even our guide and the captain were impressed. You could not wipe the smiles out of our faces, as we eventually (and somewhat reluctantly) disembarked.

I’m sure I will be able to share some pictures once I get back home. It was all in all a great day, despite the bad weather. I feel extremely lucky to be here.

Time is flying by. The days pass without their nights to help us count them, and we know that we must soon leave this place. I wish we could stay a bit longer here.

I’m sure we’ll make the most out of the time that’s left to us, before we head back to much warmer lands, however. Tomorrow we still have a couple of interesting activities planned, even though the weather is not getting any better.

As long as we can keep dry and warm inside our coats, let it rain. We will be prepared to handle it.