Today we played a game called "Let's Sneak up on a Enormous, Shit-smeared Pinniped."
It went about well as you'd expect.
The prospect of a break in the weather on Lågøya Island in Nordaustlandet got us moving early. The rising sun made some small effort to burn through the fog, and we gulped down scalding coffee and headed for the walrus haul-out here at five in the morning. Two dozen of the brutes were heaped on the black sand beach, belching and farting with contentment.
We slowly worked our way up to within ten yards of the nearest set of tusks, then five, and finally it turned into some sort of low-grade contest of machismo. I was the last man left, approaching within a yard or two of an enormous bull. I knelt carefully beside him, photographing the herd at rest. As he breathed, I was enveloped in a calming, warm cloud, and I felt an almost benevolent tolerance of my presence.
When I tried to swim with the walrus later, the greeting was a bit cooler. Sliding into the water, I slapped my fins like a playful brother walrus, and one big bull with two young acolytes circled me, taking my measure, before approaching. The enormous male swam a bee-line for me, not stopping until he gave me a single, hard head butt with his snout and tusks. They could hear the crack of ivory tusk on my glass camera dome back on the boat.
That was enough of a warning for me. I scurried back to the skiff, crawled in and unceremoniously announced my retirement from undewater pinniped photogtgraphy.
August 11, 2009 - Lågøya Island, Nordaustlandet, Svalbard