Co-ordinates: Furthest North N 80º56.2', E 022º00.5'
Weather: Sunny and partly cloudy
Air Temperature: 4ºC
Pressure: 1011 hPa
Today was perhaps the best day I have had this summer in Svalbard. We saw more bears in one morning than we had seen on some previous trips. The skies were blue and dotted with geometrically arranged cumuli typical of mackerel skies. We had very good visibility, sea ice as far as the eyes could see, and mild temperatures. To top it all off, in the evening we saw hundreds of Walrus.
By 6 am the Expedition team was at the bridge looking for what was to be today’s mission, polar bears! We were sailing east of the seven islands, in Norwegian called Sjuøyane. Forty five minutes later our bear whisperer, Chris Srigley, had spotted the first one. The bear was quite far away when spotted and that gave our guests just enough time to get up and come out on deck. The views were phenomenal as this big male walked about, kind of curious about the ship and the smells emanating from it. It posed majestically on a pressure ridge and then moved on to continue with his daily chores, looking for food. Our guests were over the moon, little did they know what the arctic had in store for them...
We moved on as well and shortly thereafter a second bear was spotted. This one however was a bit shy and started to move away from us as we approached so we decided to leave him/her alone and move on.
There was another expedition vessel in the area, the Origo and they had spotted two polar bears on a kill. We spoke with the expedition leader (a friend of ours) and they were happy to let us come check them out once they were done. As we started heading their way, we spotted another bear about two miles away from the Origo. We then diverted and went on to watch that one thus giving the Origo time to wrap up their session with the bears on the kill. We then proceeded to the area and sure enough, next to the little Origo there were two fat bears lying down about to have a proverbial nap after a big seal meal. The remains of the unlucky seal were lying around on an ice floe and four Ivory gulls, plus a couple of Glaucous gulls were finishing the left overs.
As we sailed onwards after the kill, a female was seen and we obviously went over to have a look. She was kind of indifferent until she smelled the German sausages that our Executive Chef Christian was preparing on the pool deck. That smell surely got her attention and started heading our way. About 100 m from the ship she seemed to have changed her mind and walked away after having provided us with great sights and photographic opportunities.
Later on one last bear, the seventh in a space of just seven hours, was spotted but that one was swimming in the distance and we take care not to approach them when in the water.
Having obtained more than what we had bargained for we decided to leave the ice behind and head south again after having a furthest north of 80º56.2' latitude north.
At 2 pm our photographer, Richard Sidey, gave a lecture entitled “An Introduction to Wildlife Photography”. This is a lecture that with a few simple pointers can make a big difference in the quality of the photographs taken by our guests and it was as always very well received.
At 5 pm the expedition team hosted a recap & briefing and our expedition leader, Robin West, broke the news of a surprise evening landing at Lagøya. This small island lies just off the northern coast of Nordaustlandet and it hosts an impressive haul-out of male Walrus. We started disembarking our guests at 6:30 pm in small groups for a 45 minute landing. There were well over 100 walrus, perhaps 200. Most of them were lying about in big groups on the beach and some of them were in the water, coming in and out. Besides the great sightings of Walrus our guests had some interesting bird sightings, including the rare Sabine’s gull and Red phalaropes.
This was indeed a spectacular ending to an already incredible day. Huge smiles all around after a very happy crowd.
What a day!