Svalbard with its cool climate may not be a destination that comes to mind when people feel like going on vacation to spend some time sunbathing on a nice beach and going for a swim in the ocean. Nevertheless, the islands throughout Svalbard have their fair share of beach guests that are dead set on enjoying the sun from the best place on the beach. Say hello to the walrus!
The walrus, found year-round in Svalbard, is a picky creature when it comes to resting spots. They prefer areas with ample food and comfortable conditions. These social animals gather in packs on ice floes or land, often tightly grouped or even stacked atop each other. Their presence adds allure to the wilderness of Svalbard. An adult male is around 3,5 meters long and weighs about 1500kg, while the females grow to around 2,5 meters in length and can weigh about 900kg. One can simply say that walruses are quite bulky creatures, and if you’re lucky enough to get a glimpse of a large colony it’s truly a mighty experience of nature to see them all bunched up. They also could be very playful and enquiring. On one of the Zodiac trips, we met a gang of young walruses. They seemed to seek our attention and were very curious and animated. They were looking at us as if inviting us to play and the air was vibrating with their loud breath and splashes. They were disappearing under water and ice floes, just to bounce back on the other side of our Zodiac, even bumping into it now and then. At some point, a couple of big bulls also joined the party and were diving beneath our Zodiac. When you have 3.5 meters long animals weighing over 1.5 tons with tusks 3 feet (90 centimeters) long under your rubber boat, you may feel a bit of adrenaline. When their attention to us passed a certain point, we retreated to the ship to avoid any accidents. It was a unique and exciting experience.
Two other most common seal species found in Svalbard are the bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) and the ringed seal (Pusa hispida). These seals are frequently observed in the waters surrounding Svalbard and along its coastlines. They have adapted to the Arctic environment and are well-suited to the icy conditions of the region. The bearded seals are characterized by their impressive beards, which consist of long, thick whiskers. They are often found in the icy waters around Svalbard, especially along the coastlines. The ringed seal, recognized by the dark rings on its light-colored fur, are emblematic of Svalbard's diverse seal population. The ringed seal is an Arctic specialist and the most abundant of the Arctic seals. Being the polar bear’s favorite prey, they are naturally nervous and shy of close approach.