Day 9 |
Jun 07, 2012

Amsterdamoya, Svalbard 

By Luciano "Luqui" Bernacchi, Birder, Glacier Guide

Co-ordinates: N 79º39'19",W 011º00'48"
Weather: Mostly sunny, few clouds
Air Temperature: 5,4ºC
Pressure: 1006 hPa
Wind: 15 Kn morning. Very windy afternoon, gusts to about 48 kn.

The second day in Svalbard for this season was spectacular, the first one in true expedition style.

I woke up earlier than expected as Expedition Leader, Robin West, announced at 0600 AM via the PA system that the weather was wonderful and that we were entering a scenic area near Amsterdamoya Island. Very soon afterwards a Polar Bear had been spotted, and Robin made another announcement. We quickly organised Zodiac cruising in order to take our guests to see this great symbol of the Arctic, the Polar Bear.

In no time 7 boats were floating and we started loading. The bear was on a small island called Moseoya south of Danskoya and Amsterdamoya, at the far northwest of Svalbard. The bear had moved to the other side of the island, so I had to go around it, and it was quite rough, with lots of swell and wind, however the Bear slowly moved around to the more sheltered part and after a few minutes it came closer to the water’s edge.

After various trips to Svalbard, I always like the reaction of everyone when watching Polar Bears in the wild; it is probably one of the most amazing experiences for those of us who love to witness animals in their natural environment.

Today’s bear was quite busy walking and inspecting every corner of the little island. It was without doubt hungry and the only thing that seemed to attract him were the birds he had around. There were Barnacle Geese, Glaucous Gulls, and Black Legged Kittiwakes amongst others. And on various occasions we saw the bear eating from the ground what looked like eggs it was taking from the ground. Judging by the reaction of the geese, the bear did find more than one nest.

Time flashed by as we gently floated, watching this formidable carnivore… moving around, sniffing the air, scratching the rocks and soil, disappearing behind a ridge for a few minutes and then showing itself again, and again. I returned to the Silver Explorer, which was safely anchored more than 32 miles away, to bring the second half of our guests.

The second group had a similar experience, and after the few minutes of photos, general silence and admiration, my Zodiac group began talking and asking questions about the Polar Bear, the Arctic environment, the changing conditions and loss of sea-ice. Diminishing sea-ice has proven to be detrimental for them as it affects the presence of their main food source, seals.

It was time to head back on board the Silver Explorer for breakfast as we had missed eating anything by leaving with haste for our first Polar Bear Encounter. Thanks to the hotel department, we enjoyed a great breakfast.

The day had just started; it was still before ten o’clock in the morning. Kara Weller, one of the biologists in the Expedition Team, offered a lecture about Polar Bears. After the excitement of the sighting, it was great to listen and learn more about their life, breeding, feeding and conservation status. I joined the lecture together with most of our guests. A quick lunch followed as we approached our afternoon’s destination in Smeerenburg.

This site is known as “Blubber Town” as it used to be one of the main whaling areas during the XVII Century, little is left but some ruins of blubber ovens can still be seen near the shore, on a flat spit of land, surrounded by mountains, glaciers, and typical arctic scenery.

I had to scout the shore in search for polar bears, as we normally do in every landing in these latitudes. Once the landing is decided, some expedition staff and Bear Guards go ashore, and two boats are sent in opposite directions to look from the water and inspect for possible Polar Bears. Luckily all guests could do their activities and at about 0600 PM we were all back on board.

In the evening in Recap & Briefing more interesting facts were discussed, and we answered various questions. I spoke a bit about some of the new birds we had seen during the day: snow buntings, Barnacle geese, Brunnich’s Guillemots, and also explained about the Cryosphere.

The day ended for me with a sumptuous dinner in The Restaurant together with a few guests followed by a good night’s sleep.