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Day 9 - August 10, 2010 - Amsterdamoya & Sallyhamna, Svalbard

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: N 79º 44’ 04.3”, E 011º 00’ 00.1”
Weather: Sunny skies with scattered clouds and occasional squalls.
Air Temperature: 0ºC, 32 F
Pressure: 1005 hPa
Wind: 25 knots

The number of bears we have seen on this cruise is quite amazing. It never crossed my mind when I got up this morning that we would be once again get chased out of a landing by a bear… but more on that later.

I woke up this morning and had a quiet cup of coffee in the Observation Lounge while taking in the majestic views of Svalbard’s rugged northwest. It was here, in the far northwest, that Willem Barents and his crew discovered new land on 17 June 1596. They described the land as being “rugged for the most part, and steep, mostly mountains and jagged peaks, from which we gave it the name of Spitsbergen”.

In the centuries that followed, the large number of bowhead whales found here attracted whalers from the Netherlands and various other countries, and the area became a place of high activity, both on the shore and in the surrounding sea. This is why Nordvesthjørnet offers the largest concentration of graves, blubber ovens and other cultural treasures on Spitsbergen, all dating back to this first era of the exploitation of Svalbard’s natural resources.

At 9 am we started disembarkation at Smeerenburg. The name “Smeerenburg” means “Blubber Town”. Its whaling station served as the main base for Dutch whaling in the first half of the 17th century, which was the period when whale hunting was still happening along the coastline and in the fjords of Svalbard. Smeerenburg is situated on the island of Amsterdamøya, surrounded by fjords, tall glacier fronts and steep, rugged mountains. The most obvious sign of its days as a whaling station are the large cement-like remains of blubber from ovens where the blubber was boiled. The rest of the old Smeerenburg has largely disappeared under layers of sand.

Everything was going well and two groups had already gone on guided historical walks, when Daniil, our Assistant Expedition Leader, spotted a polar bear swimming towards the island. We obviously started the evacuation of all guests, then went around to where the bear was, and had a good look from the Zodiacs at this big male as it marched towards the landing site. We then started disembarking the other half of the guests for a Zodiac tour to go see the bear, who was still near the shore.

Once back onboard, our Expedition Leader Robin West and our Captain, wanting to get our guests ashore for a landing, decided to head for Magdalenafjord, one of the most scenic (and visited) fjords in Spitsbergen. When we got there, a bear was spotted at the far end of the fjord and this made a landing a foolish option, and so we moved on. At 4:30 pm we were at Sallyhamna, a nice little cove in the north of Spitsbergen where a fin whale had drifted in months ago, thus attracting large numbers of bears this summer. We did find 5 of them; we provided two 45-minute Zodiac cruises to see these magnificent creatures, which, with the abundance of whale meat, were looking plump and healthy.

By 7 pm we were all back on board and at 7:30 pm Captain Aleksander Golubyev hosted his Farewell Cocktail Party, followed by the Captain’s Farewell Dinner. Another wonderful day, and I am happy to say that our guests seem to be very, very happy with this voyage that soon will come to an end. It has been truly remarkable indeed.

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