Weather: Sunny with Scattered clouds
When travelling in this part of the world there are many things that we need to take into consideration when planning our activities. Weather of course plays a major role in this, but the ice conditions may play the largest.
In most parts, connecting to the Internet to retrieve ice information for Svalbard would be as easy as turning on your computer, not here, not at 80° North. This is where our days begins…
Arriving on the Bridge, I find the Prince Albert II making a wide turn to port at the entrance to Liefdefjord. It is 0600 and the plan was to enter here and make a cruise past the Andoyane Islands (“Duck Islands”) in search of white fury monsters.
Curious, I ask safety officer Igor what is happening. He explains that only a few miles back we had found a “hot spot” where signal had been available for a few minutes. Our Captain, Aleksander Golubev, had noticed the signal and rushed to the Bridge to have the ice chart loaded. Unfortunately, within those few seconds it took for him to arrive, the signal was gone.
Quickly the decision was made, if we were going to attempt a circumnavigation of the Island of Spitsbergen we needed the latest ice conditions. The ship would be turned to retrace its course to find the signal. Now we were in search of two elusive things in this part of the world, Internet and bears!
After several minutes, we had retrieved the signal and our precious ice chart was being loaded. As this was occurring I was scanning the shoreline some 2.5 – 3 miles north of us when a small dot caught my eye. There it was, a polar bear resting on some snow to cool down in the warm summer temperatures.
By turning around, we had killed two birds with one stone, our day was looking good, and it was only 0615!
Approaching slowly, it was obvious our best views would come from the ship; we would save the Zodiacs for later in the day. Announcements were made and our guests slowly began to filter onto the outer decks. With their eyes still half closed, they focused their cameras and snapped away.
With great views and full memory cards, it was time for the Prince Albert II to bid farewell to our fury friend and cruise amongst the Andoyane Islands.
Being only a few miles out, it wasn’t long before the islands were in view and only a few minutes more before I was making a rush across the bridge for a better view. “Over there, just above this rock off shore, do you see it?”
0725 and our bear count for the day was now at 3. On the largest of the Andoyane islands, sleeping in the early morning sun, was a female and her cub.
Radios began to fill with chatter as the deck crew and Expedition Team began to prepare for a Zodiac cruise. Shell doors were opened, pilot ladders lowered. Zodiacs began to drop from the sky as Robin made announcements once again.
Within minutes, myself along with bear guide Rune were off to scout the situation. Rather than wasting time with the Zodiacs full, the two of us would go in search of the best viewing and let everyone know where to go. Several minutes later we were just off shore of the bears that were lying some 400m up from the shore.
As we sat awaiting the arrival of the first load of Zodiacs, Ruddy Turnstones with their chicks wandered along the shore, Long Tailed Ducks swam past in a group that must have numbered in the high twenties and Red Throated Divers flew overhead. But the bears still slept.
Just as the first Zodiac was making it’s way in our direction, the bears suddenly began to stir. Slowly they stood, stretched and started walking straight for us. Rune and I looked at each other in disbelief, are they really coming this way?
Sure enough, as Robin Aiello entered the bay with her guests, momma and baby bear arrived at the shores edge to inspect Rune and I. Before heading back to the ship for a group of guests, I snapped off a few shots and dropped Rune into Robin’s Zodiac. It couldn’t have worked out any better for everyone, well almost everyone.
Spending about an hour with these two Polar Bears, our first two groups of the day observed them wandering along shore in search of food. Right before their eyes, the majestic beast of the north, everything that they had come for. As they turned to leave though, our friends made for the ridgeline and the centre of the island for another sleep.
With this movement, our second two groups of the morning were unfortunately left with a tour of the island trying to see if we could get any closer. In the end, we could only get views of two white dots in the distance. It was truly disappointing for all of us. This of course is the way it can happen when viewing animals in their natural environment.
Returning to the ship, we loaded the Zodiacs and headed for lunch while the Prince Albert II repositioned to our afternoon destination at the head of Liefdefjord, Monacobreen.
It was obvious that we needed to make a change to our day’s plans in an effort to get some good viewing for those who had missed out. Quickly our Expedition Leader Robin West met with the Captain and made a plan. We would cut our Zodiac tours this afternoon down by half an hour, move our Venetian Society cocktail party and dinner forward, and head back to Andoyane for an after-dinner tour in an attempt to get better views.
Monacobreen shares its front with Seligbreen, which creates an impressive 4.5- to 5 km-long glacier front. You could truly spend all day here amongst the calving ice and beautiful peaks. Birds by the thousands can be found feeding along its front. Their sound almost deafening over the Zodiac engines. Bearded and Ringed seals play amongst the ice in search of their own food, while sometimes you may find large pods of Beluga whales as well.
As I made my way along the glacier front with my guests, the conversation turned to earth and its warming trends. I was asked if I am able to see changes in these places. The answer of course is “yes”. However, Monacobreen may be the place where I have seen it the most. This front has not only lost height but also close to 400 – 500m of frontage since I first visited it 4 years ago. Soon Seligbreen would be separate from Monacobreen.
Soon enough it was time to return to the ship and prepare for dinner. We changed from our working gear and joined Danill in The Theatre as he welcomed our Venetian Society members to the Prince Albert II and our continually growing Silversea family.
As the clock struck 2100, it was time to once again change back into our expedition gear and head out with those guests who had not gotten good views of the bears. This time we would not scout, load and go. The Zodiacs fanned out amongst the islands that had now been shrouded in fog. The first to spot the bears would call the others and await their arrival before approaching.
Minutes later, Robin was calling us all to the eastern side where again the bears were along the shoreline. Our plan couldn’t have worked out any better if we had tried. We were able to make everyone happy, even bringing some to tears. A life long dream of seeing the Polar Bear in the wild in full view without binoculars had been fulfilled.
Just after 2300, it was time to head back with smiles on our faces and memories to share. It had been a long day starting all the way back at 0615 with our first bear.
For some, the night would be shorter than others, as I am finishing this it is 0015 in the morning and our Expedition Leader has just called. “We will go scouting at 0500; see you on the bridge at 0430?”
The only response I can give to that is, “Gladly”. This is what it is all about.