Day 11 |
Jun 23, 2012

Monacobreen, Svalbard 

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: S 79º32'53", E 12º31'23"
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds
Air Temperature: 5ºC
Pressure: 101 hPa
Wind: 5 knots

Another sunny day! We have had the best luck with the weather this voyage – nearly every day has been sunny and bright. The first stop this morning was at one of my favourite glaciers in Svalbard – Monacobreen. This is a beautiful glacier tucked at the head of Liefdefjord, and has a calving face of 5km long. This glacier was named after Duke Albert I of Monaco, who led the mapping expedition to this area in 1906 - 07.

I always look forward to this Zodiac cruise because there is so much to see! Not only is the surrounding scenery spectacular with majestic mountains rising up on either side, but the glacier itself has some of the most awe-inspiring features of any glacier in the area, with 60-80m tall ice pillars looming above sheer bright blue ice cliffs.

We headed out on our first Zodiac tour at 8am and nearly instantly Robin West, Expedition Leader, announced over the radio that he had spotted some beluga whales. As we headed over to look for these small, 6m long, all-white whales, I briefed my guests about them.

These lovely animals are specially adapted for life in the Arctic seas. They are the only whale to actively feed under the ice, and have therefore evolved the smallest dorsal fins (so they do not scrape it along the bottom of the sea ice) and they have un-fused neck vertebrae that allow them to freely move their necks to pluck up the small fish that live up under the ice. This is also why these whales are all white – it is perfect camouflage as they move amongst the icebergs – they look exactly like one!

We were fortunate enough to actually get some very good viewings of the belugas, but soon they moved away and we also moved off and continued on our Zodiac tour.

My favourite spots along this glacier are the meltwater streams that flow out from under the glacier. You can always tell where these steams are by the hundreds of kittiwake and Arctic terns that gather there to feed on the plankton life that the waters stir up. While we were drifting near one of these areas, watching the hundreds of birds feed, wash and preen, we heard the loud popping sound of a calving event - suddenly we had hundreds of seabirds flying right overhead – a really amazingly beautiful site!

At one point I totally stopped the engine and we sat for about 10 minutes in the complete silence taking in the scenery – the sun was shining, the blues of the glacier were sparkling, and the birds were squawking and calling. As we drifted quietly we could occasionally hear some deep resonating booms that were calving events INSIDE the glacier.

It was amazing how quickly the hour and a half passed – most of us could have stayed out for at least another hour in the stunning place! But it was time to head back to the ship and get our guests ready for the next big event – the Polar Plunge.

This is a tradition in the Polar Regions! We tie up one of the large MK6 Zodiacs to the side gate, and as people come down to take a plunge into the cold Arctic waters we tie a harness around them and let them dive off the Zodiac.

The expressions on their faces are hilarious, as they surface from the dive and the full effect of the cold water hits them! A few guests decided to show off and swim leisurely out for a few yards, but eventually they too hurried back and scrambled up the ladder back to their warm bathrobes! All in all we had 20 intrepid guests take the plunge! Well Done!!!

To get to our next destination in time tomorrow morning (where we are hoping to find walrus) we had an afternoon at sea.

At 3pm Peter Damisch, our Historian, gave a talk entitled “The Andree Expedition 1896-97”. Peter is so good at telling these stories of adventure and hardship that you actually believe that, for 1 hour at least, you are actually back in the days that it was all happening.

The Andree story is about several men trying to reach the North Pole via balloon – a hydrogen filled balloon! The men took off from Danskoya Island and were never heard from again. It wasn’t until 1930 that the remains of their last camp, on the island of Kvitoya, were found by historians. In those remains they uncovered photographs of the expedition, and discovered that the balloon had crashed on the sea ice, and the men had to walk about 350km south to reach land – but unfortunately they were not rescued.

At 5pm we gathered in The Theatre for our last Recap & Briefing, followed by the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party. Everyone looked so debonair in their fancy dress – and there was lots of laughter and chatter as we remembered various stories from our voyage from Iceland to Svalbard.