Day 14 |
Jun 21, 2011

At Sea north of Spitsbergen

By Dr Toby Musgrave, Botanist

Co-ordinates: 079°57’N – 011°00’W
Weather: High cloud in morning clearing in afternoon to sun and partial cloud.
Air temperature: +1°C

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day. But for us up this far north it really does not make any difference as we are enjoying the arctic summer - 24-hour daylight - anyways. Today we awoke to an expedition day, which translates as anything goes and be prepared for changes. However, as always, there is a plan, and today’s aim is to find a polar bear. To attempt to achieve this, we head in a northeast direction towards Woodfjorden with the expectation of finding sea ice on the way - the optimal environment on which to try and spot bears. But it is an expedition day and even before this we have a brief but close encounter with a couple of fin whales. We continue our passage and to the surprise of the Captain and the Expedition Leader, there is far less ice than would be expected this early in the season.

With pairs of eyes glued to every available pair of binoculars we slowly make our way into Woodfjorden and then Chris Srigley makes the first sighting! A bear, or as we quickly discover, two, are walking just above the shoreline on the starboard quarter. We slow the ship and make an announcement but to our disappointment the bears disappear over a ridge and are seen again but fleetingly. A tantalising and brief sighting but a good one nonetheless. Sadly however, not everyone gets a view of the bears. So we make our way slowly through the fast ice deeper into the fjord. And then Chris wins a second chocolate - the prize offered by the Captain to anyone spotting a bear. And this third bear is putting on a show for us. It is a great sighting: a young male out on the ice, hunting, digging, walking and generally taking the air. Everyone is on deck and gets a clear view even though we keep at least 300m away so as not to disturb the bear, who seems oblivious to our presence and carries on with his daily routine.

After about half an hour, we turn and head out of the fjord and to the north-northeast in the direction of Moffen Island, which is a somewhat grandiose name for a sandbank. The expedition day aim now is two-fold: to try and find more sea ice and therefore bears, and to cross the 80°N parallel. There is little ice and we do not meet our first aim, but the second we achieve at 14.57 when our position is 080°00’N – 014°25’W. Alas no, bears but heaps of walrus both on Moffen Island and out on the ice floes, and the Captain gives us some great views as we ship cruise past Moffen. Unfortunately we cannot Zodiac cruise and land on the island as this is forbidden.

The rest of the afternoon is spent heading northwest looking for denser patches of sea ice, and having walrus sighting after walrus sighting. Towards 16.00 we get some expansive areas of drifting sea ice and with the sun now fully illuminating the sea, ice and distant land the views are quite stunning. We all take the opportunity to take photographs and to savour these last hours among the sea ice, as in the evening and overnight we will be heading south again and out of the ice. But for the moment the combination of seascape, sunshine and deliciously invigorating cold air keeps us all on deck and enjoying every vista.

Recap & Briefing is followed by the Captain’s Farewell cocktail party and awarding of Employee of the Month, and then our farewell dinner before bed and thoughts turning to another exciting day tomorrow - alas our last - and a pair of landings.