The World’s East Greenland Expedition Begins
At midnight on August 22, The World began its Expedition to Greenland, as we sailed from Reykjavik off to the icy west. Iceland’s first permanent settlement was in Reykjavik. Today, it’s the world’s most northerly capital and a center of both commercial and cultural activity. This weekend crowds teemed to watch the running of this morning’s marathon while live music was performed all over town interspersed with art shows and large-group yoga exercises.
Morning dawned gray and misty on August 23 as it so often does in Iceland. While still some miles from the Latrabjarg Cliffs, a pod of perhaps 50 white-beaked dolphins were spotted, leaping out of the water and heavily splashing down.
As we drew nearer to shore a lone minke whale surfaced briefly just off the bow.
The Latrabjarg Cliffs at the westernmost point of Iceland is said to have Europe’s largest seabird colony. The cliffs host millions of breeding birds – puffins, murres, razorbills, gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes and other gulls. Most significantly to ornithologists, this is the heart of the razorbill community with some 40% of the world’s population breeding along this short stretch of coast.
Small flocks of puffins wheeled past the Ship, some carrying fish towards shore to feed the chicks remaining in nesting burrows. Fulmars and kittiwakes were everywhere and we had fantastic views of gannets from our lofty perch on Deck 12.
A wildlife extravaganza, yet we were only seeing perhaps 10% of the denizens of these cliffs. Although still August, here in the Arctic summer is over. The bulk of the birdlife associated with these cliffs has already departed. Murre and razorbill chicks leave the nesting cliffs at roughly two weeks of age, leaping into the water and swimming out to sea escorted by their male parent. Once old enough to swim, the strategy is to bring the chick to the food, rather than the other way round. This limits the chicks’ exposure to predation by gulls and skuas as they sit on the exposed nesting ledges.
Upon leaving the cliffs we set a course nearly due north towards Scoresby Sund on the East Greenland coast, and in mid-afternoon we crossed the Arctic Circle.
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