Day 3 |
Jul 16, 2009

Russebukta, Svalbard, Norwegian Arctic

By Rob Suisted, General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 77 34.5 N, 020 07.0E

Weather: Overcast, 10 knots wind

Air Temperature: 4 C

Pressure: 1005hPa

Wind: 10 knots

We awoke in open water with the Prince Albert II approaching Edgeoya Island, after sailing through the night.

First up after breakfast, Christian Walter gave us a very thorough and interesting lecture about the history of European voyages of exploration during the 16-18th centuries. I found the history fascinating, especially having been on the Prince Albert II during previous voyages in Chile, Argentina and the Magellan Strait, very important areas in this history. His lecture included exploration of Greenland, Svalbard and Iceland. I think we’re all looking forward to part 2.

Late morning I was divided by choice. The ship entered a large area of unexpected pack ice just as Chris Collins started his lecture on birds of this area. Pack ice is always exciting to me – it’s a special place. Firstly, it seems like such an unlikely thing to have a ship on a semi solid sea. And, it’s also a place to find life; seals hanging out and if we’re lucky, a polar bear out hunting. Also, important to many onboard, and lucky for Chris, most people chose to learn up on their birds, sitting through a great series of personal photos and descriptions of the birds we will see on this voyage; all while hearing the odd large bits of ice being pushed aside by the ship.

After another beautiful lunch, the first two groups disembarked into Zodiac boats to land at Russebukta on Edgeoya Island. Sea conditions were a little choppier than yesterday, so the friskier nature of the Zodiacs at the side gate gave us all a chance to brush up on our sailor’s grip and balance.

Russebukta is in the Svalbard National Park, and was apparently a site used by Russian Pomor hunters possibly as early as the 16th century. Guests had a guided walk at this site, and saw a good variety of birdlife, including Red Phalarope, pink footed goose, Long-tailed duck, barnacle goose, snow bunting, purple sandpiper, and Northern Fulmars aplenty. Hans-Peter also gave us a rundown on the local flora, including Purple Saxifrage, tuffed saxifrage, moss campion, polar willow, buttercup, sandwort, and cinquefoil. 

Just as the second group were arriving on the beach, our Expedition Leader, Robin West, spotted an arctic fox close at hand, which is always a treat to see so close. 45 minutes later, a call went out for a relatively close polar bear sighting. Several guests and expedition staff spotted a polar bear three to four hundred metres away, so the landing was called off and everyone made a well organized retreat back to the safety of the Zodiacs. 

I was driving one of the Zodiacs, and felt a real buzz amongst my passengers at this development. It is a humbling experience to know that polar bears are the top predator here and we’re not. It felt very real for everyone.