Arctic Day 2

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Day 2 - June 17, 2013 -  Smeerenburg Fjord, Svalbard 

By Kara Weller, Biologist

 

Co-ordinates: 79º49.8’ N, 011º29.1’ E
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: 3ºC
Pressure: 999 hPa
Wind: 17 knots

On our first full day onboard the Silver Explorer, we anticipated a morning at sea full of briefings and gum-boot hand-out. But the arctic is a wonderful place and shortly after breakfast, all plans were thrown out when Chris, our bear guard on the bridge spotted a polar bear on the ice! And this wasn’t just any polar bear, it was one that had just recently (only mere minutes before we saw it) killed a seal and had pulled it out onto the ice to eat.


What a start to the cruise! Many abandoned their breakfast or leapt out of bed to get dressed as warmly as possible in order to step out on deck into the biting wind and very cold temperatures to get a better sighting of this polar bear. It was a nice fat bear and was determined to most likely be a female. At first she didn’t seem sure what to think of our ship, and dragged her seal along the ice a short distance. She even took the seal with her into the water between ice floes until she stopped on one particular floe that seemed to satisfy her somehow and started to eat. Our captain gently manoeuvred the ship along the edge of the ice to give us a good view of her, and the strong wind also pushed us slightly into the ice so that towards the end of our viewing session we were maybe only 200 meters away from her and could see her very clearly.

This polar bear was simply beautiful. She filled her stomach with seal fat (most likely a bearded seal), then sat staring into space for a long time afterwards seeming to have that “gosh-I-ate-too-much” look on her face.

It was a truly wonderful sighting. Not only is every polar bear encounter special, but sightings of bears with fresh kills is something we don’t encounter often and maybe once a year are we lucky enough to have a sighting like this one. We watched her for about 2 hours, before deciding to leave her to her digestion. The captain gently eased the ship back out of the ice and turned us out of Smeerenburg Fjord where we had been all morning.

A lecture about the biology of polar bears was presented before lunch highlighting these amazing creatures. Rubber boots were distributed to those who needed to borrow them from the ship’s supply. During lunch the ship repositioned around the northwestern corner of Svalbard and into Fuglefjord.

Conditions were a bit windy and cold still outside and sea ice was drifting past the ship but a zodiac cruise was offered and we ventured out into the boats to admire this vast and beautiful landscape from water level. At the back of the small bay, we could see the Fuglefjorden glacier. Large pieces of sea ice were all around. We admired some beautiful eider ducks, delicate little arctic terns and black guillemots with their wonderful bright red legs.

The AECO (Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) briefing that had been scheduled for first thing in the morning finally took place around 5 pm and Robin our Expedition Leader also showed us the latest ice charts and told us how conditions were changing rapidly in the area we planned to visit tomorrow. The evening followed with our Captain’s welcome cocktail party and the chefs put on a truly marvellous dinner.


 


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