The days are getting shorter. We are sailing on a southerly course. The last few nights we lay at anchor and when not on anchor watch we were able to sleep in. Now we face a number of days at sea. We rounded the famous Cape York during the first night. The environment around us is very impressive. The sea is calm, the fog disappears just before we reach the cape and we are sailing through a dense field of ice bergs which have drifted together with the opposing currents and the winds.
The weather gets colder the next morning and the winds with a wind force of 4-5 come directly from ahead. Our “Dagmar Aaen” rocks through the waves. The cold is creeping through our clothes so we normally take the time to put on 5 to 6 layers to brave the cold on deck. The different teas we have on board from Lebensbaum always help to keep our senses alert in the cold. And this is urgently necessary. Especially in the thick fog with a visibility of less than half a meter, we must constantly be on the lookout at the bow for drift ice and ice bergs which have broken off from the glaciers. Then it is very important to concentrate and be on the lookout – even the radar cannot detect all the ice.
In this hostile environment, we are often accompanied by little auk. One of them – not longer than 15 cm and probably a young one - has exhausted itself in its attempt to pass us and was forced to land on our deck. Nervous and frightened, it jumps down from the storage locker on to the deck planks. It seems as if auks in this area do not often come in contact with a ship on the high seas.
We can often watch these cute little animals from the deck. Most of the time they chirp excitedly, try to swim away from the ship and dive under at the last minute. Auks are, as their name suggests, excellent divers. Not so in the air. In the course of evolution, the penguins in the southern hemisphere have lost their ability to fly. The alks on the northern hemisphere can still fly but with respect, not in a very elegant manner. When one of the birds attempts to take off, this looks more like a wet flummi bouncing on the surface of the water which cannot lift into the air. In the Robertson Fiord not far from the Meehan Glacier, we were able to anchor by a huge auk colony. The birds nest in the cliffs there. For takeoff they fly down from the cliffs and fly on a kamikaze low flight out to the open sea, where they live when not breeding. When a group of these alks whoosh close past the ship, it sounds like a train passing by - these little birds produce such a loud noise with the swirling of the air.
With a little help, our little visitor found its way over the planks and back into the water where it dived right away into the vast Melville Bay in search for its alk colleagues.
We observe many sea birds from the alk family: common guillemots, Brunnich guillemots and Atlantic puffins. We see many northern fulmars, these elegant and curious birds which sail alongside the ship, skuas, sea swallows and even the rare peregrine falcon in the Robertson Fiord.
Our next goal is an uninhabited island group in Melville Bay. There we will be on the lookout for an old shelter hut. But besides a large amount of plastic waste on the beaches of the island, we find only the remains of a hut and an old radio mast. We take advantage of our short stop to examine the plastic waste on one of the stony beaches. A change in the weather prevents us from making a more detailed examination. Considering the distance to the mainland and the fact that the plastic pieces are dull and smooth, we assume that the waste has all been washed up from the sea. Not only the sheer amount or waste is striking but also the number of oil cans. An inhabitant of Qeqertarsuaq told us that the fishermen in their big outboards often throw the cans overboard. The other pieces seem to come from all different directions. We collect a few samples for the Senckenberg Society – the scientists may be able to tell us later where the rest of the waste came from.
Alex und Justus