Constant Companion

I’ve lamented the lack of mega-fauna throughout this journey. And with good cause: the tally so far is one visit from dolphins; a smattering of whales, only one of which was up close; zero orcas; and sea eagles so skittish that they remained little more than dots. But one feathered friend has been with us through thick and thin from day one in Newcastle: the fulmar.

This chunky, gull-like pelagic bird gets little respect, probably because it’s a chunky, gull-like pelagic bird. The bump on his upper beak makes him look like a boxer who’s broken his nose more than a few times. The implacable black eyes and flat expression give him an air of haughty arrogance, as though he’s a little put out that you’re intruding on his space out on the open sea. He doesn’t work hard, certainly not as hard as you do out here. Instead, he’ll flap two or three times to rise up out of the water and then he’ll just glide, riding downwind like a jet or coursing upwind in a series of rises and falls. And then he’ll glide past, just out of reach at eye-level as you stand on the deck, wondering why you’re going so slowly. But he’s not above taking a lift, either, riding the rising wind spilling off the sails whenever it suits him.

A few hours ago as we rounded Sørkapp, the southern cape of Jan Mayen, we were surrounded by thousands of fulmars. They sat in great rafts upon the water. They tumbled and climbed and dived on the fierce winds wrapping around the high, colorful headlands. They drifted by Polar Bear within arm’s length. Thousands and thousands of fulmars all in this one place out in the middle of the ocean: it was Hitchcockian at the same time that it was comforting to have so many familiar faces around.

Fulmars may not have the cute factor of the puffin or the awesome wingspan of the eagle; instead they’re the workaday bird of the North and Norwegian seas, and I just wanted to call ’em out.

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