Svalbard Summer 2014 (1) : Meeting the Walruses
The first post about a trip and cruise around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard in late July/early August 2014.
After being hunted to the brink of extinction, Atlantic Walruses are making a nice albeit slow recovery in Svalbard where they are now fully protected, and they progressively reclaim territory in the Western part of the archipelago where they had been completely wiped out decades ago.
For their sheer size and impressive tusks, walruses are a tough subject to photograph, not unlike elephants : a huge, dark skinned lump of blubber that mostly rests when on the ground or on ice, and dives when in the water. Being very social, they are most often in groups, and have specific landing spots where they gather and can be observed. We visited 2 of those, one in the southern part of the Hinlopen strait that separates Spitzbergen mainland and the North-east island (Nordaustland), the second in Magdalena fjord on the North-western coast.
Having visited walrus “colonies” already in previous trips, i wanted to get something different this time, and hope for some animals to get close from the water for close-ups. Walruses are both skittish and curious, they would certainly flinch at a direct approach, but if you lie motionless at the edge of the water, chances are that a small group of young males will approach you and then you might even become part of their social game : the largest animal will assert its ranking by coming really close and even charge you if you don’t retreat. A Walrus charge onto the ground is not lightning fast, but ultimately you certainly want to avoid being struck by the tusks of a ton-heavy animal. Even Polar bears do.
For most of those pictures i’ve used a “portrait lens” (85mm/1.2) to get some features of the face sharp while the rest of the body and background are blurred out, and i’m rather happy with the result. Please feel free to comment to let me know what you think !