Day 8 |
Jul 10, 2011

Smeerenburg, Svalbard, Norway

By Christian Walter, Historian

Co-ordinates: 79° 43’ N, 11° 02’ for Smeerenburg
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: 6.9° C
Pressure: 1009 hPa
Wind: 7 km/h

Today an early morning start meant that at 06:00 a.m. some of the Expedition Team members left on Zodiacs to explore the area northeast of Smeerenburgfjord, hoping to find more polar bears. A sighting would not be unusual, as we had seen a mother and her cub in the southern part of the fjord during our last visit.

When Captain Stahlberg was about to anchor in front of Amsterdamoya, a radio-call came through that a bear had been spotted some five kilometers away. The Silver Explorer was turned and slowly made its way towards the northwest corner of the island of Spitsbergen. Unchartered and rocky areas close to the shore made it difficult to position the ship closer than a couple of miles.

Eventually it was decided to keep to the original schedule of a morning visit to the former whaling settlement of Smeerenburg, and to look for the bear again later. We headed south to anchor northeast of Danskoya and soon we were ashore at what once was probably the largest land-based whaling station of Svalbard.

A harbor seal was patrolling along the shore, and several Arctic Terns were seen nesting on the ground, ready to attack in case someone came too close.

In groups of 15 we were walking and looking at the few remains of the once busy settlement. In addition to seeing the timber and stones of the former houses, the ruins of blubber-ovens, and a sign indicating this as a cultural monument, we were also able to spot footprints of a polar bear on the beach, probably from the bear we had seen at Fuglesongenfjord.

During lunch, Captain Stahlberg maneuvered the Silver Explorer towards Fugleoya, at the entrance of the fjord where Srigley and Uli had spotted the bear sitting close to a glacier.

The first groups had a very good view of the bear’s side or back while it was eating. The second zodiac-group had a different view: the bear had decided to have dessert, and had climbed the hillside to check if there were any Little Auks nesting under the rocks. A mountaineering polar bear certainly was an unusual sight!

During Recap Robin presented tomorrow’s plan (14.July Glacier and Ny Alesund), and explained why we would have our Farewell Cocktail and Dinner this evening – despite the fact that we still had two more days to go.

Captain Stahlberg commented how lucky we had been with the weather and the different bear sightings, and presented a good part of the crew at the end of the party. This was truly his Farewell Party and Dinner, as he was going to leave the Silver Explorer in Longyearbyen to go on his well-deserved holidays.

Andrea, our Maître d’, asked me to join an Australian table where we discussed life aboard ships and travelling to remote areas, among other topics, and dinner passed quite rapidly. Then it was time to finish this log, and to write some postcards to be posted from Europe’s northernmost post-office in Ny Alesund tomorrow afternoon.