• Home
  • Trip-Logs
  • PLA06-23, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of polar bear & pack ice

PLA06-23, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In search of polar bear & pack ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen, embarkation day

Longyearbyen, embarkation day
Datum: 29.06.2023
Position: 78°13.30’ W 15°32.6’ E
Wind: NW 3
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +6

Throughout the afternoon on our embarkation day in Longyearbyen guests were arriving at Plancius, our new home for the next week.

Once on board we were busy with familiarisations, safety briefings, a mandatory lifeboat instruction, and generally exploring the layout of the ship, working out where important places are, like the restaurant.

As we set off from Longyearbyen in the evening, and northward towards our first scheduled activity of the trip, there was time to enjoy beautiful views of the scenery. The water was very calm, and we even managed to spot a minke whale, a small baleen whale that is often seen in coastal waters.

Then, after departure, we had an introduction to the ship from our hotel manager. This was followed by captain’s cocktails where Captain Remmert welcomed us and where our expedition leader Philipp introduced himself and the expedition team and shared the plans for the voyage. After a lovely first dinner on the ship, most of us went to enjoy the views outside while the ship was cruising or went to bed early after a long day of travelling.

Day 2: Poolepynten and St Jonsfjord

Poolepynten and St Jonsfjord
Datum: 30.06.2023
Position: 78°25.8’W / 011°55.1’E
Wind: N 2
Wetter: Overcast
Lufttemperatur: +4

This morning we woke to a partly foggy, partly sunny sky and after breakfast we prepared for our first landing. Today we would be seeing our first walrus, the gentle shellfish eating giants of the north.

We boarded the zodiacs around 9am and after a long zodiac ride we were ashore on the long sandy beach at Poolepynten. To the north we could see the unmistakable large pile of walrus. Slowly we walked towards them, and we began to smell their distinct pungent smell. We all formed a line and slowly we inched forward towards the Walrus, stopping around 40m from them. Everyone took many pictures and videos and watched in awe as around 30 walrus slept, rolled over, made farting noises, and came and went from the ocean.

After visiting the walrus we walked to the south behind the sandy beach where we saw old whale bones, Siberian driftwood, and a reindeer gave us a show, running, and jumping all around us. Then it was back to the ship for lunch.

At around 3pm we boarded the zodiacs with great anticipation, and we went ashore at Gjertsenodden. Once ashore we split into groups with a fast, a medium and a slow hiking group and the first thing to look at was the small trappers hut which is built out of solid logs in a log cabin style. Inside there is a small fireplace and a bed and outside are many reindeer antlers that have been shed each winter by male reindeer. Certainly a cold place to spend even a summer in this fjord.

The fast hikers walked towards the top of the mountain, the medium hikers went to the east, and the leisurely hikers scoured the baren landscape for wildlife to photograph. We found some flowers, purple sandpipers, and arctic skuas.

Evening came and the ship headed back out to sea as we had recap in the bar followed by a delicious dinner.

Just as we were getting ready for bed Phillip announced that there was a whale outside and we were treated to an amazing view of a humpback whale lunge feeding. We then saw even more whale blows in the distance which turned out to be a group of six huge fin whales, the second largest animals in the world.

Day 3: Smeerenburgbreen and Fuglesongen

Smeerenburgbreen and Fuglesongen
Datum: 01.07.2023
Position: 79°37.7’N / 011°26.7’E
Wind: Light
Wetter: Overcast + fog
Lufttemperatur: +2

Smeerenburgfjorden is a system of islands and fjords about 20 km long and 4 km wide located on the Northwestern corner of Spitsbergen. Towards the west, the fjord is connected with the sea by the Danskegattet, between Amsterdamøya and Danskøya, and the Sørgattet between Danskøya and the mainland of Albert I Land. The place is named after the Dutch whaling station of Smeerenburg.

Upon arrival we encountered a thick fog along the entrance of the Fjord. However, the veil of fog lifted to a low base of clouds, high enough to allow us to have some visibility. We deployed our zodiacs and began cruising closer to the glacier front. We had the chance to see birds typical of the arctic latitudes such as Common eider ducks, Arctic terns, Arctic skuas, King eider ducks, and various types of Guillemots among others. The main attraction of our zodiac cruise was to visit the glacier front and witness its activity. Soon we started to hear the crackling and thundering noises of the glacier. From a safe distance, we had the chance to witness the calving of massive pieces of ice falling from the glacier front. This left many of our guests speechless, making everybody feel infinitely small and humble against such a powerful force of nature.

In the afternoon we sailed to the Island of Fuglesangen which translates from Norwegian as “Bird Song” referring to the sounds made by the thousands of Little auks (Alle alle) that breed on the island. This island has an area of 4.1 km2 and is located in Nordvestøyane, the Northernmost archipelago of the area known as Albert I Land. The island has many steep and rocky slopes and cliffs. Here and there are some scarce flat areas. These are the main characteristics of this wild part of Spitsbergen. The first activity would be to walk on land to look to the bird colony. The second activity would take those who would not be so comfortable walking into a zodiac cruise to see the bird cliffs from the sea.

The short walk together with the spectacular landscape and the copious bird life makes of this site a little pearl amongst the possible landings in this remote area.

Both groups enjoyed the incredible sight of flocks of hundreds, even thousands, of the Little auks flying around the island and the sea. Snow still covered some small portions of the landscape, but did not hinder our walking party, from access to the foot of one of the bird colonies. The best was to experience the comings and goings of the birds. For many of our passengers, this was an unforgettable experience, to witness hundreds of those beautiful birds, with their nervous movements and their relaxing moments sitting in rows over the big boulders, or buzzing in large amounts, sometimes flying right over our heads. Soon after heaving anchor, we were underway aiming for the North-West corner of Spitsbergen. In the evening we encountered plates of first year sea ice. The view lasted a short moment and soon after this we entered a thick fog bank.

Day 4: Liefdefjorden and Bockfjord, the day of fog

Liefdefjorden and Bockfjord, the day of fog
Datum: 02.07.2023
Position: 79°54.4’N / 013°32.0’E
Wind: Light air
Wetter: Fog
Lufttemperatur: +1

After our wakeup call, we were able to see a beautiful sun shining outside. The mist surrounding the ship made it just the more mysterious and magical. During the morning we started to see more and more ice around the ship. It kept on building up until we could see nothing more than sea ice and mist. Whilst standing in the warm sunshine we looked out with our binoculars with hopes of seeing something moving or laying around. Occasionally we spotted a Bearded seal laying on the ice and some people even saw an Ivory gull fly over the sea ice. Hopes were high on spotting something that was also white but much bigger. Around midday the mist came in again which naturally made us go happily to lunch to get warm again and our bellies filled up.

After lunch the mist was being persistent and did not give us much to look out for. Sailing through Liefde Fjorden we saw a Ringed seal laying on the ice and different types of Auks kept on flying by until we were finally blocked by the fjord ice. Here we found a natural border that we were not allowed to touch or break so we had to turn around. Phillip had decided to go down into Woodfjorden to reach a fjord called BockFjord. On our way there, the mist did not want to lift up and even though we scoured the coastline the best we could, no movement by any animal was noticed. We did have the chance to listen to the Lecture of Chris who talked about the different types of ice. We learnt how Glacier ice and Sea ice are different and how they are created. After his lecture we arrived at BockFjord and we were again stopped by fjord ice but this time there was more to see. There were 8 seals laying down on the ice in front of us. They looked like they were ringed seals looking at their shape although we were not able to confirm this. Due to the dense fog Phillip again had to make the choice to turn around and leave the Woodfjorden.

Whilst our journey brought us back up north, we were offered a Lecture by Elizabeth. She taught us when and how whales started to be identified and studied and how you can read different features on their dorsal fins, dorsal colorations, tail flukes and callosities on the face, and she told us about a survey that was necessary to start protecting the Orcas in the Northwest of the Pacific Ocean. Today the mist was definitely the most observed feature, however with an optimistic view to the next day in the Pack Ice we happily went to bed.

Day 5: Day in the pack ice

Day in the pack ice
Datum: 03.07.2023
Position: 79°55.1’N / 014°29.6’E
Wind: E 3
Wetter: Partial clouds
Lufttemperatur: +3

After yesterday's gray and gloomy day spent in thick fog, the sunlight today seemed especially life-affirming! Not a cloud in the sky, complete calmness, the azure blue of the sky mirroring the color of the Plancius, above us, and below us, right on the water's surface – the eternal ice of the Arctic Ocean. As far as the eye can see, only ice floes, rubbing against each other along the horizon.

Led by our captain, the Plancius maneuvered slowly between the ice, forging its path northward. From the south, the northern coast of Spitsbergen bid us a farewell.

The main task for today was to find a polar bear! Our expedition guides, taking turns, armed with binoculars, constantly stood on watch on the bridge, scanning the ocean surface, in case the ruler of the Arctic was roaming the ice, keeping an eye out for any unsuspecting seals.

We were persistent because the more people searching for the bear with their eyes, the higher the chance of spotting it! Some of us have powerful telescopes, others have good binoculars, and some just stand on the deck, marveling at the mesmerizing view of the most extraordinary ocean on Earth. But all of us constantly peer into the distance, hoping to catch sight of any movement.

"There's always a fish in a crab's trap," says a Russian proverb. No, it was not a bear, but other formidable inhabitants of the polar regions awaited us on the ice floe. Walruses! They rested on the ice, sometimes lazily raising themselves on their front flippers and flashing their white tusks. They gazed at us, not understanding who we were, what we were doing here, and why we disturbed their daytime slumber.

After lunch, the search for the bear resumed with renewed vigor. But... more walruses. Huge, fat beasts sprawled themselves on a tiny ice floe and slept, showing no signs of concern about our presence. In contrast, fueled by curiosity, we crowded at the ship's bow, taking hundreds of photographs.

The bright sun still shines, but the wind intensifies. The water surface, which was mirror-like in the morning, now displays its combative nature. The ice floes maintain the tranquility of the ocean, preventing the waves from running wild. However, the small waves that manage to form in the small patches of open water, as if understanding their powerlessness, angrily attack the ice floes, striking them forcefully on their sides. Some of them even manage to lift a small spray of fine droplets. The black-legged kittiwakes and northern fulmars, it seems, were delighted by this change in weather. The stronger the wind, the easier it is for them to soar in the air, scanning for prey. Look, a kittiwake is flying after the Plancius, and suddenly - swoosh! - it dives into the water like a stone and immediately soars back into the sky, triumphantly clutching an unfortunate shrimp in its beak.

Unfortunately, the search yielded no results. The bear remained hidden. The sun, traversed the sky, gradually moves further and further north. For dinner we gathered at the stern of deck 3 and dine and dance while occasionally glancing at the ice floes — just in case the bear shows up after all.

It was a pleasant and leisurely day. Yes, we didn't find the bear, but we did cross the 80th parallel. None of us had ventured this far north before, so regardless, we have something to remember.

Day 6: Polar bear sighting

Polar bear sighting
Datum: 04.07.2023
Position: 79°43.0’N / 012°03.4’E
Wind: N 3
Wetter: Partly cloudy
Lufttemperatur: +7

Philipp’s soft gentle voice flowed in our ears early this morning as we sailed into Raudfjorden. The participants of the BBQ’s after-party might have had a bit of trouble waking up. It proved to be another sun filled morning, as the astonishing landscape slid past our portholes and cabin windows. Time to go outside and enjoy the warm glow of the Arctic sun.

On the decks and bridge one could see countless members of the expedition team ferociously scanning the landscape. The pressure was on to find the true king of the Arctic. It had to be somewhere! Footprints of large animals could be spotted in the snowy landscape, yet no animal that belonged to it. Rest assured many other Arctic inhabitants showed themselves: A pod of beluga whales, arctic terns, Skua’s, harbour seals, bearded seals, reindeer, puffins, walrus and even the occasional minke whale were spotted by the keen spotters out on deck. This fjord was truly filled with life.

Philipp really put all his effort in finding us the illusive polar bear. He even made Plancius sail past small rocky outcrops surrounded by treacherous shallows to see if one furry friend was resting on the shores. Meanwhile we could again enjoy the beautiful scenery of Smeerenburgfjord while baking in the sun as we headed for our midday landing at Magdalena fjord.

Eagerly we looked at the clock, at 16:00 we should be at our destination. It had been two days since we walked on solid ground and our feet could use a bit of a stretch. One could already start to notice that the lack of movement and the effect of Ivan’s exquisite dishes served three times a day. We could not wait to get a bit of exercise.

Out of nothing the engines went silent, Plancius lost its speed, excitement on deck, people hastily making way to the starboard side of deck. Were we sinking? Listing to port? God no, none of that. What in fact happened was ultimately the cancellation of our landing at Magdalenafjord because the crew had found a bear! Not one, but two! A very alert watchman named June came well rested on duty. As the story goes he picked up a pair of binoculars, had a look at the rocky shores of Danskøya and almost immediately saw a mother and cub resting in a snow patch. When informing the expedition leader about his find, the latter almost jumped through the roof. Finally, this almost mythical creature showed itself. Time to get into action. The guides launched the zodiacs.

As we all sat in the zodiacs the mother and cub decided to go for a swim. From the zodiacs it was not visible where they went, we were still at a fair distance. Luckily the officers on the bridge kept us up to date about their location. It is forbidden to approach a swimming polar bear so we had to gently wait until they climbed ashore again.

Once the bears were seen ashore our ten zodiacs steered to land at a slow and steady pace. What followed was a dream come true. The furry pair walked along the shoreline, entering the water every now and then. Surrounded by seals and mirrorlike water we followed them at a respectable distance. After a short hour the mother decided to head further inland towards a snow patch to lay down. We watched as they cuddled up into a furry bowl amidst the frozen landscape. Time to head back to Plancius, review the pictures we took and digest the special experience we just witnessed. And Ivan’s upcoming plated dinner.

Day 7: Ymerbukta and Alkhornet

Ymerbukta and Alkhornet
Datum: 05.07.2023
Position: 78°14.8’N / 013°56.8’E
Wind: N 4
Wetter: Partial clouds
Lufttemperatur: +12

We woke to beautiful sunny weather on the last full day of the trip. We arrived at Ymerbukta and split into our usual hiking groups. The long hikers walked up to some scenic waterfalls and enjoyed rock ptarmigans and elevated views of the fjord. The medium hikers were treated to an amazing sight of an Arctic fox carrying a pink footed goose that was almost the same size as the fox. They also saw a Glaucous gull sitting proudly at the top of the mountain. The leisurely walkers found the nest of a purple sandpiper, and they enjoyed seeing the diverse range of flowers on the tundra and birds flying and paddling by the shore, such as fulmars, kittiwakes, and eider ducks.

We had a final delicious lunch on Plancius before heading back out to another landing site called Alkhornet, a spectacular spot where the mountain face towers over 600 meters above the sea and is home to hundreds of seabirds nesting on the cliff edge, particularly kittiwakes and Brunichs guillemot.

The long hikers at this spot found lots of tiny plants such as drooping saxifrage, scurvy grass, and mountain avens, all beautiful tundra flowers that are especially adapted to this harsh cold environment.

The medium walkers walked up to the base of the cliff to admire the seabird colony. Up there they had the privilege of seeing a family of arctic foxes emerging from their den on the other side of the valley. Their parent brought them a ptarmigan to eat and it was a magical moment to see the young foxes excited to get their next meal.

The slower walkers had a spectacular stroll along the shore where they saw walruses swimming and had close views of the Svalbard reindeer, a unique subspecies found only here.

Reluctantly we left the charming site of Alkhornet and began slowly sailing back to Longyearbyen. Captain Remmert wished us well in the lounge in the evening and Expedition Guide Elizabeth showed us a beautiful slide show of our adventures over the last week.

Day 8: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Datum: 06.07.2023
Position: 78°12.5’ N 15°35.3’ E
Wind: NW 3
Wetter: Clear sky
Lufttemperatur: +14

While we enjoyed a last breakfast on board, our suitcases were taken off the ship. It was a sad moment to disembark from Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cozy home during this unforgettable journey. We have shared many unique moments, encountered incredible wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories we began our journeys home.

Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage, for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!


Tripcode: PLA06-23
Daten: 29 Jun - 6 Jul, 2023
Dauer: 7 Nächte
Schiff: MS Plancius
Einschiffung: Longyearbyen
Ausschiffung: Longyearbyen

Waren Sie auf dieser Reise?

Aboard MS Plancius

Unser ältestes Schiff, die Plancius, ist eine klassische Wahl für einige unserer beliebtesten Polarreisen.

More about the MS Plancius »