Fulmars bathing spot

Recently I was sailing in Ekmanfjord, which is a part of Isfjord, central Spitsbergen. A friend of mine said that we were supposed to see bathing fulmars not far away from Coraholmen Island. Around 10 kilometers south from the Island we spotted some ice floes with many fulmars on them. Indeed, bathing, vocalizing, socializing, preening, snoozing, and…yawning, which brought my attention to their beaks, “armed” with tubes on top of it. The northern fulmars are the only Tubenose (an order with species like albatrosses, petrels, storm-petrels, prions, diving-petrels, and many more) species of bird breeding in Spitsbergen. Whereas in Antarctica Tubenoses are represented by dozens of species, in the Arctic, there is no other species of this order, which is as common as the fulmar. The role of the tubes on the top of the beak is still a subject of speculations… definitely it plays a significant role in salt extraction through the salt glands located more-less between the eye and the beak on each side of the head. I also heard, it could be responsible for enhancing the sense of smell – seabirds are known to find food with help of smell, however, seabirds that do not have tubes (penguins, auks, gulls) have no problems in locating food at sea, so this theory is not really supported by any evidences…

The plumage looks dusty and soft. In general they seem to be on the mellow side, I have never seen them fighting (neither with other fulmars, nor with other species) or stealing food from other birds. When on the nest, their only way of self-defense is stomach oil-spitting. The birds are projecting the fishy, acidic oil at the predator’s eyes, preferably, and it does its job pretty well. Otherwise, the birds seem to mind their own business, however they are very social at sea, providing lots of entertainment for lucky observers.

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Exploring Coraholmen Island. In the background Capitol Mountain.

After an hour of standing still on the water we moved towards Coraholmen Island, where we landed and explored a space-like landscape of clay hills and shallow crystal-clear ponds, which is what a glacier left behind after retreat, (not only) for us to remember. Like a little note left on the mirror in the hall “hey, I’ve been here, left you some rocks on the counter in the kitchen, xoxoxo, Glacier”.

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