Air Temperature: 4ºC
Today we had an earlier than expected start, as a result of an earlier than expected polar bear sighting. In my five seasons in Svalbard, I think this is the first time that we see a bear as soon as we arrive in Spitsbergen. As the Silver Explorer was sailing into Hornsund at 6 am, our Bear Guide Chris Srigley was on the Bridge looking for bears and within minutes of getting there, and with his exceptional eyesight, he spotted the first polar bear of this voyage.
This female bear was at the entrance to Burgerbukta, our destination for the morning. Robin made an announcement and we swiftly lowered Zodiacs and started taking our guests to see the furry beast. She was lying down on the fast ice about 100 metres from the edge of the ice, she would constantly lift and turn her head, sit up and look our way. It was very exciting! She was at a bit of a distance, but I am confident that we will see other bears from closer. Crossing fingers.
All freshened up, we came back on board for breakfast and prepared for our second activity of the day, a Zodiac cruise of Burgerbukta in Hornsund. There was a lot of ice in the water to be negotiated as we came closer to the two-km-long glacier front where we saw seals, thousands of kittiwakes and various other birds. Some people were lucky enough to see Beluga whales.
Majestic peaks and dramatic fjords make a visit to Hornsund special. Hornsund is the southernmost fjord in Svalbard located in Sør-Spitsbergen National Park. Traces of human activity spanning 400 years can be found almost anywhere where there are possible landing sites.
We then came back on board for lunch, and at about 3 pm we started our disembarkation at Gashamna, which is a relatively large and open bay on the southern shores of the Hornsund fjord. Here we found remains of whaling, Russian and Norwegian overwintering trapping, and remains from one of the first great international research expeditions in the Arctic: the Arc de Meridian Expedition in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The establishment of a geodetic Observatory in Gashamna was based on the reasoning that Svalbard was the perfect platform for investigating the shape of the Earth. In 1826 Sabine suggested that measurements of meridians (lines of longitude through the poles) should be carried out in Svalbard, but it would take almost three quarters of a century before the Swedes and the Russians realized Sabine’s vision.
In addition, there are also in Gashamna exquisite examples of patterned ground (which I proudly explained to our guests), and the walk on the tundra that we offered was quite enjoyable with lots of wildflowers and wide vistas.
We then came back on board and got together for a Recap & Briefing on our plans for tomorrow. Dinner followed, as usual.
Today was definitely a great start for a trip to the far, far north on Silver Explorer!