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Day 3 - July 26, 2009 - Svalbard, Norway

By Chris Collins, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates at midday: 77 30 N 14 43 E
Temperature at midday: 10 degrees Celsius

After a comparatively short overnight journey from Burgerbukta (SW Spitsbergen), the plan for the morning had been to land at Bamsebu in Van Keulenfjord, however, as we cruised along Bellsund fjord towards our intended destination, Chris Srigley (General Naturalist) spotted a Polar Bear. As a result, Captain Alexander turned the ship and at 07:00am, our Expedition Leader, Robin West, made an announcement to alert everyone to the animal’s presence and to encourage all guests to come outside to see it.

Initially, views were somewhat limited as the Bear was swimming along the shoreline and only its back and head were visible, however, after a short while, it came out of the water and Robin and the Captain made the decision to lower Zodiacs to enable everyone to get a closer look.

Approaching the beach, we could see the Bear climbing a comparatively steep grassy slope below some bird cliffs and at first we presumed it was looking for injured birds and abandoned eggs and chicks, however, it soon became apparent that it was also browsing vegetation – something of a surprise!!

As the first of the Zodiacs were returning to the ship, Robin Aiello (Marine Mammal Lecturer) alerted all Zodiacs that her boat had spotted a Beluga whale and everyone who was nearby had amazing views of the whale as it cruised around Gasbergodden Bay. Having seen 20+ individual whales yesterday in Burgerbukta, we were extraordinarily lucky to see another one so soon afterwards (as sightings are extremely rare). But this individual was less obliging than those we had seen less than 24 hours before and it quickly disappeared.

Cruising around the Bay in the Zodiacs, there were some amazing cliffs with thousands of breeding seabirds. The commonest species were a mixed colony of Brunnich’s Guillemots and Black-legged Kittiwakes and we were able to get some great views of the closest birds. There were good numbers of chicks, although many of the Kittiwake youngsters were covered in down and were a little difficult to see as their parents were protecting them.

Other birds seen during the cruise included Black Guillemot, Little Auk, Common Eider and Arctic Tern. The latter is considered to be one of the longest distance migrants in the world with birds making the return trip from Northern Europe to the Southern Oceans on an annual basis.

After a spectacular morning (during which a few lucky individuals had also seen an Arctic Fox), we returned to the ship and at 10:30am, the Prince Albert II sailed for the Recherchebreen Fjord and Glacier. Compared with yesterday, the cloud level was a lot higher and there were fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers as the ship cruised across Bellsund.

Directly in front of the Glacier was a large lake that was separated from the sea by the Glacier’s terminal moraine (clear evidence that this Glacier was retreating). However, there was a small gap in the moraine with a shallow stream flowing between the lake and ocean.

After lunch, Robin announced that there would be a Zodiac cruise on the Glacier Lake and those who went enjoyed amazing views of the area, plenty of icebergs, as well as two species of seal – a Ringed Seal and Bearded Seal. A lucky few saw the Bearded Seal scramble onto an ice floe allowing for some great photos to be taken.

Whilst those who were not cruising were on the ship, I gave a presentation entitled “The Birds of Svalbard” (firstly at 14:30 and then repeated at 16:30). This described the bird species we could expect to see during the cruise and primarily concentrated on how to identify them.

At 18:45, a destination Recap & Briefing was held in The Theatre. The recap presentations included Rob Suisted (Marine Mammals) who spoke about Beluga Whales and Christian Walter (Historian) who provided some information about the coal industry in Svalbard. Robin West then described the locations we hoped to visit tomorrow – Bamsebu in the morning and Poolepynten in the afternoon. There was, however, a ‘surprise’ for all as the first groups would be going ashore at 05:30am (!!) with the second landing at 07:15. Robin explained that the reason for this was to enable us to get to Poolepynten by mid-afternoon. It would be an early night for many…

By dinner, we were anchored off Bamsebu and we enjoyed a sunny evening with great views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.

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