Day 4 |
Jul 09, 2013

Ice cruising in the Arctic Ocean

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: Furthest North N 80º59', E 017º42.5'
Weather: Overcast 
Air Temperature: 0ºC
Pressure: 997 hPa
Wind: 8 knots

Today’s mission, polar bears! That is the reason the Silver Explorer sailed into the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean early this morning. We started our day with staff members looking out for bears in the drift and the pack ice at 6:00 am. The scenery was beautiful with an overcast sky and plenty of sea ice, the perfect platform to look for the King of the Arctic.

The visibility was a bit low at times and the morning went by with a few close calls that turned out to be false alarms - everyone was glued to their binoculars and cameras, tingling with anticipation looking out into the white distance. Nothing happened in the morning as far as bears are concerned, although we did see large groups of Harp seals and Brunnich’s guillemots, Northern fulmars, Little auks, and Kittiwakes feeding in the frigid waters.

We kept watch through the day and Peter Damisch entertained our guests with his lecture entitled “Fridtjof Nansen - Renaissance Man for all Seasons” in the afternoon. Fridtjof Nansen was a great Norwegian Arctic explorer and the first person to cross Greenland. Also a prolific inventor, Nansen won a Nobel Peace Prize and was the first Ambassador of Norway to Great Britain.

Later that afternoon, the announcement we all had been waiting for was made! Our eagle-eyed bear guard Chris Srigley found a polar bear in the distance. We carefully and slowly approached the animal, who was quite oblivious to our presence. He carried on with his life like a 6.500 ton ship wasn’t there. For about an hour he roamed around, rolled in the snow, lay down on his belly and finally became curious and walked towards us. He stood infront of us from a 50 metre distance, curiously checking us out and having the odd roll in the snow before he decided to leave. A great polar bear encounter indeed.

By the time the bear left us I was ready to give my glaciology lecture entitled “Ice on the Rocks - The Cool World of Glaciers”. I explained some basic concepts of glaciology, how glaciers form, how they move and behave, and also what it is that makes Svalbard’s glaciers so special.

Then at 6:45 pm, we had a briefing to announce a change in plans to tonight’s programme. An after dinner landing in Lågøya! Since we were in the area, we wanted to take the opportunity to show our guests a Walrus haul-out up close and personal. We started disembarkation at nine and ran small groups ashore until 11:30 pm. The weather was truly arctic with a fair bit of wind and driving rain and snow. A truly amazing arctic experience.

Everybody had a nice opportunity to see these magnificent creatures, some walrus were on the beach and many were lolling about in the shallows just off the shore. But not only that, they also saw Arctic terns, nice tundra and a flat and frigid landscape. Everybody came back on board wearing big smiles. What a day!