Inland whales

Palanderbukta – Nordaustlandet

In that Polar desert we often find whale bones far inland. Sometimes several hundreds of meter inland and several tens of meters above sea level. This always makes you wonder how they got there. They must be really old, probably thousands of years, but not old enough to be one of the early evolutionary stages of whales when they still had legs and could walk on land… That would mean they would be 40-50 million years old and even as decay goes really slow in the high Arctic, they would definitely look different if they were that old.

The explanation is different. During the last ice age (still some 20.000 years ago) Spitsbergen was covered in a huge ice sheet. This ice pressed the land down, resulting in a relatively higher sea level. When the ice melted (at least partially), the extra weight was gone and the land bounced back up. Because of this the shore line moved away from the old one, creating a relatively lower sea level. The whales that washed ashore in the early stages can now be found far inland, often creating a nutrient rich part where plant live flourishes.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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