Up Close and Very Personal in Svalbard

Header image: Eric Chan One tonne of Svalbard blubber stared at me. Several feet of sharp tusk protruded from either side of its mouth. Had this been a wise move? I pondered, up to my calves in icy water. If this turns nasty, whatever you do, don't fall over, I told myself. I'm no athlete, but I knew I could outrun the walrus on land. Actually, on land, a gentle saunter would be enough to put distance between us. But if I slipped here in the water... The rest of my landing party were some distance off, having left the boats to photograph along the shoreline. I'd spotted the walrus, and about half a dozen others, nosing around our boats. I'd gone to see what they were up to.

Gentle Svalbard giant

I knew if I approached them directly, I'd scare them off. So, I held back a little distance away, at the water's edge. Once they spotted me, they came over to see whether I was more interesting than the boats. I like to think I am. And that's how I ended up knee-deep in water, face to face with one of them. Soon, it was joined by the others. Fortunately, a walrus is about as aggressive as a wet paper bag—provided you're not trying to harm it. So, we simply looked at each other for several minutes, each curious about the other. Me, the alien in this place. It, the native. I won't pretend I had any kind of deep connection with the animal or epiphany as I looked into its eyes. Nevertheless, it is an experience I'm grateful for. A fond memory of Svalbard I won't forget.

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