Day 10 - June 13, 2013 - North-East Spitsbergen, Liefdefjorden, Svalbard
By Luciano “Luqui” Bernacchi, Birder, Glacier Guide
Our first day in Svalbard for this season was one in true expedition style. The plan for the day was to sail on the edge of the sea ice at about 80 degrees of Latitude North in search of Polar Bears. I woke up very early and joined the rest of the Expedition Staff on the bridge as we all tried our best looking out for Polar bears. Once the guest started their day, we opened deck 4, and joined them as Captain Adam Bozcek, manoeuvred the Silver Explorer along the pack-ice. We had to come all the way past 80 degrees north to find enough ice and the appropriate conditions were bears could be found. It is quite surprising that at the very beginning of the season the sea ice has already melted and retreated considerably. The weather was truly Arctic, specially being out on deck, only the brave and properly dressed would stand more than a few minutes on the open decks, nevertheless many guests came out to witness their first ice navigation experience, and all eyes were scouting every single floe in search of Polar bears, the main wildlife attraction in this part of the world.
At about 11:00am, on board Historian Peter Damisch, presented a lecture about the Conquest of the North Pole. We had been searching since the very early hours of the morning, in the vicinity of Moffen Island, just over 80 degrees north, it was decided to reposition during lunch to nearby Woodfjorden and Liefdefjorden.
I went for a quick lunch, and I knew that the afternoon had something for us, perhaps the bear we had been looking for, a zodiac Cruise by MonacoBreen Glacier, or more explorations of the area. Chatting with guests, I realised everyone was anxious about what Svalbard had to offer.
I returned to the bridge, and very soon afterwards one of the Expedition Team members spotted a bear, with excitement for the first Polar Bear of the season, we gathered with Expedition Leader, Robin West, to arrange a Zodiac Cruise for our guests. Quickly I got ready and fully dressed to jump in a Zodiac and start the cruise, and see this great symbol of the Arctic, the Polar bear. In no time, 7 boats were floating and we started loading. The bear was walking towards an area of fast ice on the north shore of the fjord, at the far northwest of Svalbard.
We approached slowly; we could all see in the distance how the bear walked and inspected the ice, on occasions it sat down, slowly the Zodiacs were neatly “parked” against the edge of the ice to offer the best possible viewing.
After various trips to Svalbard, I always like the reaction of everyone when watching Polar bears in the wild, it is probably one of the most amazing experiences for those of us who love to witness animals in their natural environment.
Today’s bear looked rather skinny and for sure it was looking forward to this summer after a long and tough winter, It was clearly hungry and seemed to be saving energy moving slowly. Time flashed by as we gently floated watching this formidable carnivore… moving around, sniffing the air, lying and turning around on the snow. It was time for me to return to the Silver Explorer and bring another group of guests.
The second group had a similar experience, although the bear was less active, and after the few minutes of photos, general silence and admiration, my Zodiac group began talking and asking questions about the Polar bear, the arctic environment, the changing conditions and loss of sea-ice, diminishing sea-ice has proven to be detrimental for them as it affects the presence of their main food source, seals.
It was time to head back on board the Silver Explorer after this successful first day and first Polar bear encounter.
In the evening in Recap & Briefing as usual guests learned the plans for the following day, more interesting facts were discussed and we answered various questions. I spoke a bit about how sea-ice is formed.
The day ended for me with a sumptuous dinner in The Restaurant together with a few guests and a good night’s sleep.
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