Day 9 |
Jul 31, 2011

Monacobreen, Svalbard

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: 79º 31.38’ N, 012º23.45’E
Weather: Sunny with intermittent overcast skies
Air Temperature: 10º C

We have been so incredibly lucky with the weather this cruise! Today, once again, we woke up to sunny skies. Our plan was to scout the Andoyane Islands early in the morning to look for polar bears. This group of small islands near the opening of Woodfjorden often has polar bears wandering the coastlines. In the past I have had some wonderful sightings there, so I was eagerly listening to the radio hoping to hear that someone had spotted a bear.

The Bear Guards were up on the Bridge early in the morning, but did not see any bears as the ship sailed in. So, at 8:00am, several Zodiacs were lowered and a scouting team headed out for a closer look in some of the bays and inlets. Unfortunately, after an hour, they had still not seen any bears, so Robin West, our Expedition Leader, decided to make the most of the fine weather and sail further into Liefdefjorden to Monacobreen for a late morning Zodiac tour.

Monacobreen is a beautiful glacier and definitely one of my favourites, with its steep cliffs and highly convoluted terrain. Monacobreen is one of the largest glaciers in Svalbard with a 5km front. It was named after Prince Albert I of Monaco in recognition of his support of Spitsbergen research. The Prince took a personal interest in Svalbard and funded much of the early research efforts.

As always, there were quite a few large icebergs floating past the ship, indicating that the glacier front was recently active with calving. Soon after anchoring, we had loaded up the Zodiacs and were off for our tour. I decided to take my guests to the far edge and slowly cruise the entire 5km length so that they could see just how magnificent it is. As we were cruising along we could hear the occasional gunshot-like blasts of calving, but could not see where they were coming from until we approached the other end of the glacier.

Suddenly, as I was approaching on of the caves, I noticed some small pieces of ice falling from the cave’s roof. So, I shut the engine down and simply floated – waiting… waiting… suddenly the falling pieces got bigger and bigger (accompanied by great loud blasts of sound) when all of a sudden, without any real warning, the entire roof of the cave fell in with a great echoing bang! Fantastic!!

We watched in awe as the large flock of gulls took flight and flew past us in a frenzy. Within seconds the action was over and the seas calmed, and it looked like nothing at all had happened. We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time to see that.

After the Zodiac tours, it was only a short 45 minutes before the Expedition Team was back on standby and jumping onto Zodiacs once again for another tour – this time to take a closer look at a polar bear that two of our staff had spotted while scouting when we were at the glacier front.

The large male bear was high up the scree slope in a green vegetation patch underneath a cliff with nesting kittiwake gulls. He was not very active – spending most of the time lying down amongst the boulders and only giving us views of his rump!

But, while we were waiting to see if he would wake up again, a feisty young bearded seal entertained us. The seal kept approaching the Zodiac underwater and poking its head up to look at us. On several occasions the seal popped right up out of the water and splashed back as if breaching like a whale. Then it would approach us again from another side and splash some more. We got some wonderful, close looks at the seal’s beautiful face, with its long white whiskers and dark grey eyes. Although there are plenty of bearded seals in these waters, it is relatively unusual to get such good views of one. It was a fantastic finish to the day’s Zodiac activities.

At 7:00pm we got all dressed up and attended the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party. There was a lot of laughter and happy faces as people recounted some of the great things we had seen over the past few days. And who knows what we’ll see tomorrow when we make another landing at Alkhornet before heading into Longyearbyen…