Yesterday’s smooth sailing out of Isfjorden had permitted a relatively calm night and a good sleep in preparation for today’s expedition day and search for polar bears and walruses.
Once in a while, the scraping of ice against the hull could be heard and felt – for those who had entered Polar Regions for the first time it was an eerie feeling. Steadily, the Prince Albert II advanced towards the north. At around 06:30 a.m. the first two walruses were seen on the ice and an announcement was made over the PA. This way, one of the animals on the “most wanted” list could be ticked off, but there still was missing the polar bear. The early morning hours went by, but only footprints of the bear were found on the ice – no polar bear yet. As the ice was closing in on us, the Prince Albert II maneuvered around ice floes, taking advantage of open areas, zigzagging towards the northeast and Amsterdamoya, one of the islands of Svalbard’s Northwest National Park. The closer we got to the islands of northwestern Spitsbergen, the more we could see birds – including two solitary gannets.
Around noon, another smaller ship (the Stockholm) was seen. From afar it looked as if it was locked and frozen in, but she was turning likewise, looking for the elusive “isbjorn” (=Polar bear), as well.
During lunch, the Spanish couple of Mr. and Mrs. Quevedo invited a number of fellow guests for a special event: the northernmost tapas and Spanish red wine Rioja on the sundeck on deck 6. Two bottles of Rioja soon gave way to several bottles of Argentinean “La Flora” – a well-received sauvignon from Mendoza – and an impromptu lunch, enjoyed by the Spanish-Scottish-Australian-American group and their German-American “guests” Sharon, Tony, Stefan and Christian. A lively discussion and the excellent food and service made this a very special meal.
Tony had to leave early, as he was to give a lecture on the diving physiology of seals – his research during the last couple of decades. Hopes were high for more walrus or the first polar bear sighting, and several guests continued to observe the ice for signs of life. They were specifically looking for seals, as these tend to attract polar bear. After carefully avoiding all major ice floes and looking for open water, in Raudfjorden the captain maneuvered the ship in such a way that the Prince Albert II seemed to be stuck in the ice. This way the guests could get a feeling for the hardship of earlier navigators and whalers when exploring the waters around Spitsbergen (=Svalbard). Before the Captain turned the ship around, we were given the opportunity to once again use our Zodiacs for a short cruise along the ice edge, and along the coast of Vasahalvoya. On the shore, a hut formerly used by trappers was spotted, and, in the vicinity of the hut, 4 reindeer.
During recap, Sharon, Tony, Christian and Stefan showed pictures or spoke about some of today’s topics, while Conrad gave a little talk about the history of the Prince Albert II, and the amount of work that went into converting the former World Discoverer into the Prince Albert II. Brad then briefed us about the program for tomorrow, hinting at the opportunity of seeing several walruses at one of their haul outs further south.
The Prince Albert II encountered ice once again at 21:30, and crossed the 80th degree North at 22:02. This was the furthest north the ship had been so far since it had entered service!
At 23:39 Stefan announced a big whale to starboard – fortunately the whaling industry of the 16th to 20th centuries had not been able to wipe out the whole whale population. To everybody’s surprise it turned out to be a Blue whale, one of the rare opportunities to see one!