Day 8 |
Jul 01, 2009

Freemansundet, Svalbard

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: 78º 12.5’ N, 020º 54’ E

Weather: Overcast skies

Air Temperature: 0ºC – 32ºF

Sea Temperature: 0ºC – 32ºF

Pressure: 1010 hPa

Wind: Gentle breeze form the east at force 3 (7 to 10 knots)

Last night my colleague Chris Srigley spent pretty much all night on the Bridge, while we were at anchor, looking out for polar bears. He did find two of them and that dictated the plans for today.  At 7:45 am our first Zodiac cruise set off on the look for polar bear and shortly thereafter all our Zodiacs full of guests were following the fast ice edge in Sundbukta, the eastern entrance to Freemansundet, the sound that separates Barentsøya from Edgeøya.

Barentsøya can be seen on Van Keulen’s map from 1689 and in all later publications until 1860 as a south-easterly "addition" to Spitsbergen. It was considered a peninsula until Norwegian hunters discovered in 1858 that it was divided from Spitsbergen by a sound.

The discovery of Edgeøya has been attributed to Thomas Edge, in 1616, but the island (or parts of it) was marked on earlier maps.

The geology in the area mainly consists of sedimentary rocks from the Triassic, when Svalbard was completely covered by sea. The most common ones are sandstone, siltstone and shale that have derived from deposits in river outlets and in shallow shelf areas in the sea.

But let’s go back to the Zodiac cruise. The day was cold and the spirits warm; we first saw a bearded seal and some arctic skuas mugging a kittiwake for its food. After a while the first bear was spotted. A female with a tracking collar was quite away but with the aid of binoculars I could see that she was stalking a seal on the ice. We enjoyed the views and then came back to the ship to pick up the second group. 

With the second group, the Zodiac drivers headed in the same direction and spotted a bear heading our way. The Zodiacs stayed there for a while as the bear started heading away from us. Meanwhile another one was spotted in a position nearer to the ship, so we all headed that way. The ship started coming our way as we enjoyed the views of the bear.

Once the ship was in position for embarkation, we brought everybody back on board and with the Zodiacs back on deck and the gangway up, Captain Stahlberg stuck the bow of the ship on the fast ice at a place where we could all see, from the deck, three different polar bears. Everybody had a good look at them, from an elevated and steady viewing point and all I could see around besides the bears were the smiles of our guests. 

In the afternoon, our onboard botanist, Hans Peter Reinthaller, gave a presentation on the plants of Svalbard and Greenland, followed by our Marine Biologist, Robin Aiello, with an informative lecture on seabirds and their adaptations. 

The Expedition Team presented a Recap & Briefing at 6:45 pm, followed by dinner. Tomorrow Bear Island, can’t wait!