Day 11 |
Jun 14, 2013

 Monacobreen, Svalbard  

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist


A perfect Arctic expedition day!

We decided last night, after our polar bear sighting in the evening, that we would stay at anchor in the calm fjord waters, and early in the morning do a zodiac cruise at the magnificent Monacobreen glacier.

And when Robin West, our Expedition Leader says “early”, he means early. The expedition team was standing by the zodiacs waiting for guests to embark at 5:30am! But it was a beautiful morning, with calm seas, large snowflakes and a pretty soft morning light.

Monacobreen has one of the largest calving fronts of any glacier in this region – about 5km across. It is, in fact, two glaciers that merge together to form one face. Over the five years that I have been coming to the Arctic, I have personally watched the quick retreat of this glacier – probably about 300m. It is such a stunning glacier with large seraks (ice pillars) and deep crevasses (cracks). To me, the most striking aspect of this glacier is the huge range of hues of blue – from light robin’s-egg blue to deep violet.

There was plenty of bird life around the glacier – we spotted thousands of kittiwakes, a couple pairs of arctic skuas, plenty of little black guillemots (with their bright red legs and feet), a rare long-tailed skua and a rare ivory gull! Great day for the birders!

We were also lucky to find a lone bearded seal lying on an ice flow. These are funny creatures. They are large, reaching 2.5m length (7 feet) and weighing about 250kg (500 lbs), but they have very small heads that are out of proportion with their large sausage-shaped bodies. But their really unique feature is a magnificent moustache with long curled whiskers. They use these whiskers to feed on clams and other invertebrates from the sea floor.

Once we had all the guests back onboard, two of our zodiacs took off for a long drive up the fjord scouting for polar bears. Meanwhile, back onboard the Silver Explorer, a few intrepid swimmers headed out into the cold (and I mean COLD) Arctic waters for a polar plunge! YIPES!!!

The scouting activity was a success! Chris Srigley (one of our Bear Guards) and I spotted a female bear walking along the ice edge. Soon, we had the guests back in our zodiacs and floating off the coast watching the bear stroll along. Near the end she headed for the cliffs where there were nesting pink-footed geese and kittiwakes nesting. We were amazed to watch this large bear climb up the rock cliffs in search of eggs to eat! We spent so much time out watching the bear that some of us nearly missed lunch!

But there was plenty of time in the afternoon to rest as the ship sailed out of the fjord and around the northwest tip of the island on our way to tomorrow’s destination – Poolpynten (to look for walrus).

The only activities were a Recap & Briefing at 5pm followed by the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party. But, as it turned out, we had another surprise coming our way. Robin West had just started his briefing about tomorrow’s activities, when our photographer excitedly pointed out a large polar bear walking on the ice just out our window! Soon, the entire Theatre was cleared out and everyone was out on deck watching this large bear leisurely stroll over the ice, get into the water and swim across to another large piece of sea ice and get out and keep on strolling! Fantastic! What a wonderful way to end a perfect day of exploration in the Arctic!!!