Day 8 |
Jul 11, 2009

Kapp Lee And Freemansundet, Svalbard

By Chris Srigley, General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 78°05.616’N, 20°46.570’E

Weather: sunny, not a cloud in the sky

This morning as I pulled back the blinds, I could already feel the warmth of the sun, today was sure to be a good day.

Last night Captain Aleksander Golubev had brought us to anchor off the northeast corner of Edgeoya and within half a mile of our planned landing of Kapp Lee. Before retiring for the night, we had already spotted walrus hauled out on shore, we could only hope they would be there this morning.

Standby was set for 0715. The Expedition Team gathered in the reception area and the deck crew began lowering our Zodiacs. Once on the water, our Expedition Leader Conrad Combrink along with bear guide Lasse headed south along the shore scouting while Rune and myself headed north. After yesterday’s cancellation of our planned landing, I was almost hoping we wouldn’t find any bears.

With the ‘all clear’ from both directions, the other staff headed ashore to prepare for the guests’ arrival. Each would set off on a tundra walk with a few of the guests after a visit to the walrus that had been kind enough to remain onshore for us through the night.

Tides created a slight delay in our disembarkation, but shortly after 0830 we had the first groups ashore enjoying the sunshine and sights of Kapp Lee.

Kapp Lee has something to offer most interests. For the keen birders onboard, several Grey Phalaropes along the shores pleasantly greeted us, a new species to add to our list for the voyage. The lovers of marine mammals had the walrus, botanists’ the tundra flowers and for the history buffs we had Pomor hunting camp remains and the huts from various expeditions, which had called this area home over the years.

Everything was running smoothly, our second group of guests had made it to shore. Some were off in the tundra while others were still enjoying the walrus when Juan Carlos came over the radio. “Conrad, Conrad, Juan” “CONRAD, CONRAD, JUAN!”

While on patrol to the south of our landing, Juan had come across a polar bear exiting the valley and slowly making his way in our direction. Quickly we gathered the guests on the beach and began the process of evacuating. Within minutes, everyone had been removed from shore and returned safely to the Prince Albert II.

Once everyone was onboard, Conrad headed out with Juan and the bear guides to check on the bear’s progress and see if there were chances of good views from the Zodiacs. Unfortunately for those scouting, they were unable to see the bear. As they called in their lack of sighting, Christian Walter informed them it was because the bear was down at our landing sight checking out the walrus!

Jumping to action, the deck crew lowered two more Zodiacs and we began a quick Zodiac tour to get a closer look. Each group was able to spend approximately 25 minutes getting wonderful views as the polar bear covered several miles of the shoreline in no time at all. In the end, it entered the water to cross from island to island. 

As we turned for the ship, we said goodbye to what had been our best encounter of the trip by far.

With the time we used for views of the polar bear, we had lost our window of opportunity for our planned activity for this afternoon. Diskobukta can claim many of our Zodiacs propellers if we aren’t there at the proper tide.

We remained at anchor over lunch while Captain Aleksander studied the ice flowing through Freemansundet. If he liked what he saw, we would attempt to make our way through the sound and into the ice on the eastern shores of Edgeoya.

Luckily for us the ice conditions remained good and we made for the east. As we entered the ice, I headed for the outer decks to keep watch. Quickly a large group of staff and guests were enduring the bitter winds on the bow of the ship. It was hard to know how long we would last out there before having to head to the Panorama Lounge for a warm up.

One by one, people headed for the inside. For those of us who remained we were finally rewarded. There, walking across an ice floe was another Polar Bear! It was obvious that the Bridge had spotted the bear as well, since as I was pointing it out to those on deck, Daniil came over the intercom to announce it.

Just the sight of it was wonderful. But what happened next was a treat for all. As Captain Aleksander positioned the ship along the ice edge, our curious friend broke into a sprint in our direction! It came right to the ice edge and sniffed the air a few times before climbing onto a large chunk of ice and promptly lying down. Cameras snapped away, to what seemed the enjoyment of this bear.

After several minutes, he had gotten his fill and stood, walked away and made for the opposite side of the sound. For everyone onboard, this was a moment we would never forget.

Freemansundet wasn’t done with us yet though. As we headed for the warmth, Conrad came back over the intercom to let us know there was a second bear off of the starboard side! I could have never imagined the day would be this good when I awoke to the sun and thoughts of a great day.

After a few minutes with our third bear of the day, the decision was made to continue on our way. The only unfortunate part of this was that the ice ahead showed no open leads. The Prince Albert II would need to retrace its path back towards Kapp Lee and the open waters of Storfjorden.

It had all worked out in the end, we landed, it was cut short and we received three amazing polar bears in return.

This is the type of day that makes myself and the other staff members return year after year. I love this place!