Russia's Herald Island

Aug 30, 2019 - National Geographic Orion

Upon learning last night that we were on the first Lindblad ship to visit Herald Island, there was total elation among everybody on board National Geographic Orion. Quite a few were up at the bridge and upper decks by daybreak, to witness the small crest of Herald Island a few miles ahead. Seabirds were about, and with the help of a warm mug of coffee and some chat soon enough the cobwebs were blown away and we were ready for action.

As on Wrangel Island, there were many polar bears spotted on the island, on top and clambering along what seemed very steep slopes. Off in the distance another was spotted on a narrow beach.

During breakfast the ship was anchored and everything prepared for the morning Zodiac cruises. Soon enough we were all on the water and headed for the steep rising coastline, comprised mostly of many-colored metamorphosed sedimentary rocks. Along the ridgeline there were several sectors that looked like the back of an ancient stegosaurus.

More birds could be seen dotted about near the coast, many flying back and forth to and from foraging trips. The Zodiacs all hung about waiting next to a rock stack for all eleven craft to assemble in the one spot before we headed off together in search of the butter-colored furballs.

The first bear was soon sighted not far above the shoreline. Another was spotted a bit later, not far above the shore. We could see it yawning, a sign that it was trying to assemble more information with its exquisite sense of smell. “What are these strange floating objects?” it perhaps wondered to itself.

After a little while we headed off for the tip of the island which ended in a long reef, clearly visible with waves breaking over the low-lying rocks. But then there was an excited announcement made over the staff radios that a gray whale had been spotted. The Zodiacs doubled back and soon enough we were enjoying remarkable views of this giant, which at one point was swimming right next to the coast and very close to our first bear. As is always the case with cetacean encounters, there was much excitement.

Soon enough we were headed once again for the tip of the island and there rewarded with another sighting of three bears. This was the best view of the morning, and everybody delighted to get more of this magnificent mammal.

Just before heading back to the ship a swimming bear was spotted on the other side of the reef. It was the icing on the proverbial cake of a very good morning. We returned to the ship a little cold but delighted with the adventures experienced. Lunch was a hearty affair, and a lot of lively chatter could be heard.

Meanwhile, the ship repositioned a small distance away to a new anchorage from where the next Zodiac cruise would leave. And all to soon again we were all on our way, but this time to visit a walrus haul-out and then to the neighboring bird cliffs.

The walrus did not disappoint. Once more what a sight to see this much wildlife piled over each other while a good number offshore keeping a wary eye on us. Their tusks, some of very impressive length, jutting out at every conceivable angle.

We all then headed along the coastline enjoying a number of smaller bird colonies, mostly made up of horned puffins, black legged kittiwakes and common and thick-billed murres. We also passed a couple of delicate little waterfalls and an archway.

There was tremendous excitement when an Arctic warbler was sighted, the photographers working hard to get an image made all the more challenging with its refusing to keep still. Not far away from this encounter and just around a corner we came upon the main seabird colony – and what an impressive sight it was. Thousands of birds along several hundred meters of coastline always leaves one at a loss for words.

The return to the ship was so easy with an accommodating wind and tide. Soon enough we were showered, warm and ready for recap and dinner. It turned out to be a fantastic day, for which we were all grateful.

Under continued gray skies this remote island receded into the distance. Maybe the images of bears dotted about, or the walrus or the remarkable seabirds passed by our eyes as we reminisced after another great expedition day.

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About the Author

Edward Shaw


Edward Shaw has travelled widely as a naturalist and guide. For the past 29 years he has lived with his family in northwestern Patagonia, initially working as a teacher and subsequently working in community projects before returning to expedition ships. Edward is deeply committed to the principles behind sustainable development. He is happily married and the father of five children.

About the Photographer

Kiliii Yuyan

National Geographic Photographer

Kiliii Yüyan is an award-winning photographer who specializes in Arctic photography and indigenous issues. Kiliii is both Siberian Native and Chinese-American, and he has traveled across the polar regions working with indigenous cultures and wildlife. On assignment, he has fled collapsing sea ice, chased fin whales in Greenland, and found kinship at the edges of the world.

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