Stay alert

© N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

3 August 2015

A short call was enough to bring all the Taranauts out on deck. We were preparing for landing when Sylvie Duboué, President of Friends of Tara, gave the signal: “Polar bear in sight!” Everybody rushed outside with binoculars to see the famous animal. A week ago we were hoping to see a bear on a patch of ice. But here they are roaming peacefully in the very area we want to explore on foot. After some questioning glances thrown at the boat, the animal finally took off, or at least disappeared from our field of vision, leaving some doubt about his presence. This bear was unfortunately too far away to be captured by our cameras – a pinhead lost in the middle of the tundra. None of our photos proved conclusive.

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Tara, lost in the landcape. ©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

After some consideration, the zodiac was finally launched and landed on the pebble beach at Ymers Island. Equipped with a rifle and flares to ensure the crew’s safety, we had to be vigilant and decided not to explore a canyon with glowing colors. The captain’s instructions were clear: stay together, scan the horizon with binoculars, and carefully choose your route to avoid finding yourself nose to nose with a bear hidden in a valley.

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Dominique Limbour (cook) and Mathieu Voluer (deck officer) check the horizon to avoid an encounter with a polar bear. ©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

As for GREA researchers Olivier Gilg and Brigitte Sabard, they took a much steeper path to reach the foot of a cliff, in search of a nest of gyrfalcons. They have been exploring this territory for nearly 25 years, accompanied by their son Vladimir. Sometimes they bring along a tent and camp out for several days. Brigitte recalls: “When Vladimir was 13 months old, I carried him on my back. At age 4 he was already climbing the cliff alone. Now 12 years old, this is his 13th Arctic mission.” The youngest of the Taranauts shows great maturity and a surprising analytical sense. “These animals are really beautiful to see, majestic, and they inspire respect. We observed 3 young falcons, then the adults came to feed them.”

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Gyrfalcon. ©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

Eleven years after their first expedition with Tara, the GREA researchers continue their observations, returning to strategic locations day after day to take photos, count birds, and collect samples that will constitute an inventory of species. The schooner just headed out to sea again. It will take 17 hours of navigation to reach Myggbukta Bay further north. Brigitte and Olivier point out places on the map: “We’ll be passing many more beautiful landscapes, so stay alert.”

Noëlie Pansiot

Photos credits: Brigitte Sabard and Noëlie Pansiot

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