The Prince Albert II made its way south this morning and at 5am turned east into Hornsund. Up until today we had seen Ring Seals, Bearded Seals, Walruses and two Blue Whales, but the icon of the Arctic had eluded us now for 4 days. Even with all of our ice cruising north, beyond 80 degrees north, this magnificent animal remained a mystery.
This morning our Staff Captain, Paul Heslop, navigated the Prince Albert II deep into Hornsund until we could go no further. At that point, the Staff Captain drove the bow of the ship into the ice and made the decision to drop two Zodiacs to allow members of the expedition team and our Bear Guides a chance to do some scouting. The Zodiacs left the ship at 0630am, with only one objective, to find a polar bear.
At 0930 a very broken radio transmission came through from the scout boats to the bridge, we have a polar bear! Now all we needed to know was where? Within seconds, a second broken message came through: Burgerbukta Fjord – northeast finger. This was all the Staff Captain needed to know, and within minutes had the ship turned around and we were on our way to our first polar bear sighting. The atmosphere changed instantly as the announcement came over the P. A. system. Soon the decks of the Prince Albert II were filled with blue and red parkas. This was the moment we had all been waiting for, our first polar bear sighting.
On our arrival, our Expedition Leader, Brad Rhees, announced that we would be doing a Zodiac cruise. The scout boats remained with the polar bear while the Zodiacs were loaded; we were not going to take any chances and wanted to make sure that we did not lose sight of this magnificent creature.
After a short Zodiac ride, we got our first glimpse of the iconic Arctic Polar Bear. Words could not capture the magnitude of the moment. There it was, just getting out of the water. It slowly made its way along the water’s edge before heading for higher ground. It got half way up the hill and then, to our surprise, turned around and slid all the way down on all fours, allowing us a chance to take some photos. He then looked at us for a few seconds before proceeding on his way up into the mountains. Our morning was complete.
Once back onboard the ship, the atmosphere was electric with guests sharing their polar bear photos.
In the afternoon, our resident Geologist, Stefan Kredal, gave a presentation entitled: “What has happened 4.65 billion years ago”. I think many of us battled to focus on Stefan’s presentation with thoughts of our polar bear sighting still so fresh. The Prince Albert II made its way out of Hornsund and turned south for our next stop – Bear Island. Many of us came onto the outer decks to watch our sail away from Svalbard. It was sad to say goodbye to a place that had showed us so much of its rugged beauty.