PLA12-22, trip log, Around Spitsbergen - Kvitoya, In the realm of Polar Bear & Ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen

Fecha: 20.08.2022
Posición: 78°14.5’N 015°32.6’E

It was a beautiful sunny day for the start of our voyage and after a day exploring Longyearbyen we made our way to the Plancius, which was moored at the coal pier just outside town. We were met at the gangway by members of the Expedition team and shown to our cabins by the hotel staff. After settling into our cabins, we were invited to the Lounge for the mandatory safety briefing from our First Officer Maikel. This outlined procedure in the event of an emergency on board. We had an abandon ship drill and donned our big orange lifejackets as we gathered in the lounge before making our way to the lifeboats. Shortly after the drill, we watched the mooring lines being cast off and we were on our way on our Svalbard adventure! How exciting! It was a beautiful evening as we sailed out into Isfjord and we hoped this weather would be with us for the next 9 days. As we began our navigation there was a call over the PA system that whale blows had been seen and they were identified as Fin whales and then we started to see dolphins feeding amongst them. These were White beaked dolphins and there must have been around 60 animals putting on a show for us and the day trip boat out from Longyearbyen. What a great start to our trip! It was then time to reconvene once again and this was a chance to meet and toast our voyage with our Captain and also meet members of the Expedition team, the guides who would be taking us ashore in the coming days. Dinner was served and we got to meet some of our fellow travellers and after dinner the last task of the day was to collect our rubber boots ready for the landings we would be doing in the days ahead.

Day 2: Smeerenburgbreen and Buchananhalvøya

Smeerenburgbreen and Buchananhalvøya
Fecha: 21.08.2022
Posición: 79°39.1’N 011°13.2’E
Viento: NNE3
Clima: Clear
Temperatura del Aire: +7

The sun shone down on beautiful blue sea and clear blue skies as we approached Smerenburgbreen. The cruise in during breakfast had been spectacular and the glacier stood majestically at the end of the bay. We suited up for our zodiac cruise and set off through the broken pieces of ice floating in the bay, as we approached the glacier the pieces got bigger and more impressive, the sun glinting of each one as if jewels scattered across the surface of the water. Here we saw the beautiful glacier front calving on this warm summer morning, each collapse adding to the debris in the water. The blue of the ice was picturesque and the older glass like ice was a sight to behold. Some of us were lucky enough to see a bearded seal as well as the usual suspects of glaucous gulls and kittiwakes. As we ate lunch we headed out of the bay and headed around the northern corner towards Alicehamna, on the way we weaved through the islands and were greeted by Puffins, Guillemots and the occasional Minke whale. At Alicehamna we could see the hut and our landing site when we were greeting with a pleasant surprise of a mother polar bear with her cub. After a short stay on the ship watching as they lazily lay in the sun, we changed to plan B and headed across the bay to Buchananhalvøya. Here we took the zodiacs to get ashore and from the driftwood strewn beach we broke into various hiking groups and headed out to see what we could find. The area was vegetation rich with mosses and lichens. The occasional flowers still in bloom brightened the grey outcrops and the polar willow with its leaves turning to orange was a sign that summer was coming to an end. The sun stayed shining all day and the water calm as we headed North in search of tomorrows sea ice.

Day 3: In the pack ice

In the pack ice
Fecha: 22.08.2022
Posición: 81°29.9 N 008°31.3’E
Viento: V ariable 1
Clima: Clear
Temperatura del Aire: -1

Last night the Plancius was heading up North towards the pack ice above Svalbard. A few hours before breakfast the first of the keen observers were outside on the decks patiently waiting as the ice started to significantly increase all around. Number of Fulmars and little Auks were seen but it was not until we were surrounded by dense sea ice that we heard the vocalisations of a true Arctic bird – the Ivory Gull. What a beautiful all-white bird and how well does it blend into its icy surroundings! In fact, the presence of birds feeding in the pack ice surrounding the ship suggested that the waters below were rich in food, which would is good for seals and therefore polar bears as well. We delayed breakfast a little so we all could marvel at the different colours of the ice. After breakfast we indeed started to see some seal species, including a few Ringed Seals and Bearded Seals. Although all the key ingredients were there, no polar bears were to be seen. Only their tracks were visible in the snowy ice floes. After lunch we decided to go through some open water before re-entering the ice again. This time a hooded seal was seen hauled out on ice and some further seals were poking out their heads in between various ice floes. At 16:00 we were invited for a well-deserved hot drink to warm us up. Beautiful ‘fog bows’ were regularly seen as they spanned in front of the bow of the Plancius. During our recap, Philipp updated us on ice charts and our plans for tomorrow. Andreas gave an overview about how, due to climate change, the thickness of the ice has reduced over the past decades. Marijke told us a bit more about bearded seals. These are the largest of the Arctic seals and we listened to an underwater recording of their beautiful song. The males keep underwater territories and use their vocalisations to attract females. Beyond the goal of seeing Arctic wildlife today, we should not forget that this was the first opportunity for most of the passengers to simply observe and experience the fascinating environment of the arctic pack ice. And what a beautiful day we had! Today we reached our farthest North position at 81°35.4’N 009°52.0’E

Day 4: Phippsøya and Chermsideøya

Phippsøya and Chermsideøya
Fecha: 23.08.2022
Posición: 80°40.8’N 020°56.5’E
Viento: E3
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +3

It had been a calm night on board as we sailed south towards the Seven Islands. We were woken at 0700 as we were navigating between the islands to our anchorage just off Phippsoya. We started going ashore after breakfast and as we approached the beach, we could see some walrus in the water as well as a few on the beach. Looking at the length and shape of the tusks we could see that they were all males and a mixture of mature bulls and young immature males. They were certainly quite curious about the visitors to their island. On shore we were landed by what was originally a trapper’s hut, but which is now owned by the Sysselmesteren and is the most northerly hut on Svalbard. Once we were sorted into our hiking groups, we headed off in our various directions with the long hikers heading to the highest peak on the island, the medium group walking over to the other side of the island and the leisurely walkers taking a route to the small bay near the hut. Every group enjoyed views of this northern island with staff telling stories along the way and of course every group got a chance to see the walrus on the beach. Some of the walrus that had been swimming in the water came towards the beach for a closer look at us as we were watching the sleeping walrus so we had some great views of these blubbery beasts! Back on board we sailed further south to Chermsideoøya, to land at an area known as the Graffiti Beach. On shore there are words, dates and symbols made out of stones and many of these were made by the crew of expeditions to the area including the Swedish Arc of the Meridian expedition in 1898. There was a message from the crew of the Russian vessels the Krassin and Red Bear who were here to rescue the Italian explorer Nobile in 1928 and finally and, most controversially in 2022, a German swastika. Conditions were good and with our groups all sorted on shore we headed off for our walks with the long hikers heading for the top of the island and the medium groups going out along the coast. The scenery was beautiful and despite the island looking desolate from the ship we found plenty of small plants and moss along the meltwater streams. With some light snow falling it really did feel very atmospheric as we sat quietly and had moments of ‘Arctic Silence’. Back on board it was time for recap where Marijke spoke about the walrus we had seen in the morning and Andreas about the marine debris that is found in all our oceans, particularly plastics and the nets and rubbish from our fishing industry. As a species we really need to do so much better.

Day 5: Kvitøya and Isispynten

Kvitøya and Isispynten
Fecha: 24.08.2022
Posición: 80°05.5’N 031°21.3’E
Viento: NW3
Clima: Overcast
Temperatura del Aire: +3

The ship gently rocked back and forth throughout the night reminding us we were steaming ahead a great distance to reach our next destination. As we awoke the early morning fog had dissipated enough to see the island of Kvitøya. The unmistakeable dome shape of the glacier in all its glory stood lonely out there in the grey rolling ocean. Sadly, the mornings activities had to be curtailed due to the weather conditions, with increasing wind and already high swell. It was decided that we would stay here for a little while to enjoy the view of this wonderful island. No sooner had the anchor been lifted, Andreas was gracing us with an incredibly interesting and sobering lecture on glaciers. This lecture took us from the birth of glaciers all the way through to the slow demise and into future predictions. We had a wonderful surprise encounter with whales just before lunch. The majority were humpback whales, showing off their tail flukes and putting on a fantastic display. Whilst in the background shy Minke whales surfaced occasionally, along with a sighting of a fin whale. After our fill of lunch, we headed out on the zodiacs to view the Austfonna glacier front at Isispynten. The island sheltered us from the waves as we headed around spectacular natural ice sculptures. The skies turned a wonderful blue/grey and the icebergs really shone in comparison to the foreboding backdrop. Hundreds of Kittiwakes filled the sky above Isispynten interspersed with the graceful flight of arctic terns. The glacier front itself was spectacular, the ice blue where recent carvings had occurred, and archways hewn from the ice made for an impressive spectacle. As we returned three huge carving events took place and really showed us the raw power of this beautiful and dangerous environment. Once back aboard we cruised along the glacier front and into our next days adventure.

Day 6: Augustabukta, Lomfjorden

Augustabukta, Lomfjorden
Fecha: 25.08.2022
Posición: 79°25.7’N 020°37.5’E
Viento: NE4
Clima: Clouds
Temperatura del Aire: +6

Last night the Plancius was heading up into Hinlopen Strait following along the magnificent ice wall. Dreaming of all the ice and the whales we saw yesterday, we awoke seeing some walruses as we approached our first landing site: Augustabukta in Nordausland. There were different hikes on offer – some of us climbed to reach the top of the hill and enjoyed the spectacular views. Others stayed a little lower, where we joined Karin to study the different types of vegetation. All groups got lovely views of Svalbard’s Reindeer which were accompanied by some curious young reindeer too! The wind was bitterly cold, but the sunshine made up for it all. During lunch the Plancius already started to steam towards Lomfjorden. Passing the spectacular Alkefjellet bird cliffs we also saw a few whale blows. A mother and juvenile fin whale were spotted amongst the many Brunnich’s Guillemot and Kittiwakes. A minke whale was breaching up to 6 times! As we came into Lomfjord some polar bears were spotted on the far shore and all zodiacs were lowered – a change in plans. It was a bit of a splashy, wet ride to shore but we found a female with yearling (1 year and 7 months old cub) were eating from an old whale carcass. There was not much left from this minke whale carcass. But the smell of the carcass indicated that there was still some old meat buried in the sand. By now the female and cub had walked a little bit away from the carcass to have a rest. The female was occasionally scanning the land around her, probably on the look out for male polar bears. During this time of her life, taking care of a small cub, she needs to avoid the larger male bears as they are known to kill the smaller bears. Our encounter was very peaceful, it was a great way to observe the behaviour of the bears without disturbing them and to admire seeing them in their own habitat. Back onboard, Philip invited us for a recap in the lounge where he informed us about the plans for tomorrow. Marijke explained a little bit more about polar bear biology and behaviour and Ali gave a lovely overview of the different seabirds we have been seeing. We are starting to get to know our seabirds and especially hearing about the little guillemot chicks that have to dive from high cliffs was quite impressive. We shall be on the look out to see if we can find any father-chick guillemot pairs on the water in the coming days. While they are peddling south, the Plancius will sail south too. But before the Plancius lifts her anchor we were invited to join a barbeque on deck!

Day 7: Rindedalen and Svingeldalen

Rindedalen and Svingeldalen
Fecha: 26.08.2022
Posición: 78°14.5’N 021°31.2’E
Viento: NE3
Clima: Cloudy
Temperatura del Aire: +6

After our morning wake-up call from Philipp we were just enjoying our breakfast when we got a call over the PA system that a bear had been seen on shore and in fact it wasn’t just one bear but a mother with her cub. What a great reason to finish breakfast quickly and head out on deck! It was then announced that we would go out in the zodiacs to see if we could observe her from a closer distance. We wrapped up warm, grabbed our cameras and memory cards and headed to the gangway with great excitement! As we watched the bears it looked for a moment that they would walk up the small river valley but she continued along the beach and eventually settled on the grass just above the beach area. It was a female and her young cub and although the mother looked to be a little thin the cub looked to be in good health and was quite active for a while. It seemed that they were chewing on some reindeer bones for a while but then lay down and snoozed in the morning sunshine. With reindeer behind and the morning sunshine it was an idyllic scene. We were patient and enjoyed the occasional head movement and glances in our direction but then the cub decided to get up and walk a little and the mother got up and followed and then we could see it was trying to suckle from her as she was walking. She then settled on some grass and what followed was a rare glimpse of a mother polar bear feeding her young cub. It was so lovely to see her so relaxed with her cub even with 9 zodiacs and 100 people offshore albeit 170m away. This is nature watching at it’s best. After a while they both lay down to sleep and it was time for us to leave them to rest, although the young cub seemed sad to see us go as it sat up and watched as the zodiacs sailed quietly away. What a fantastic morning! We then continued down Freemansundet towards Sundneset to see what else we could see along the coast and before long we got a call over the PA to say that another bear had been seen on top of the hill, then another one was seen further away on the ridge, then another was on the tundra and then two bears were seen on the cliff by the shore. A bear bonanza! But no good for landing! Our afternoon plan was to land on Edgeoya and we needed to try 3 different locations before we could find a place where there wasn’t a bear on shore and we anchored off Svingeldalen where we could see green tundra and plenty of reindeer on the slopes. Once on shore the hiking groups were sorted, and we headed off up the hill and along the shore in our groups and it turned out to be a great afternoon with plenty to see on the ground as well as great views over Freemansundet and to the interior of Edgeoya. The long hikers headed far inland into the hills and the medium group, encouraged by Ali’s need to see over the top of the hill reached a great viewpoint for some relaxed time enjoying the views with the gentle snow fall. The leisurely walkers enjoyed a good exploration of the lower slopes and had some close-up views of the reindeer that were feeding on the rich vegetation. All the hikers were able to see the reindeer on the way back down the hill and enjoyed watching the stags with their huge sets of antlers. All too soon it was time to head back to the landing site and back to the ship where we joined the expedition team for re-cap and Marijke told us a little more about the polar bears we had been enjoying over the last few days. What a brilliant day!

Day 8: Treskelen and Samarinvågen

Treskelen and Samarinvågen
Fecha: 27.08.2022
Posición: 76°55.6’N 018°28.4’E
Viento: ENE3
Clima: Cloudy
Temperatura del Aire: +6

The morning took us into more wavey seas with a headwind that slowed us down a little. As we approached our landing of Gåshamna it was clear that the wind was far too strong for us to deploy the zodiacs, so we enjoyed the scenery as we headed further into Hornsund. we found a sheltered spot at Treskelen which was originally planned as our afternoon landing. The beach was sheltered from the wind and as we headed off into the surrounding moraines it was time to pick up the camera and take some shots of this picturesque landscape. The coastline held host to wonderful array of geology and the sedimentary colours were beautiful. Glacial erratic’s lay scattered amongst the landscape as the clouds hung low on the mountains surrounding Hornsund. Those that braved the top of the moraine were swiftly reunited with the wind that was still strong on the other side of the ridge and reminding us of the shelter we had managed to seek. Over the other side we could see beautiful blue icebergs pushed up against the beach and the exposed remnants of ice under the moraine. After lunch we headed further into Hornsund and enjoyed a ships cruise east towards the glaciers that adorned the end of the sound. We approached Samarinbreen with the clouds hugging the mountain tops. The Ice reflected in the now almost calm surface of the water. Heading towards the glacier front we weaved through ice sculptures and beautiful blue ice. As we were appreciating the glacier front, small blows appeared at the surface, and we were greeted by a pod of Beluga. The curious whales manoeuvred along the ice front, and we watched as the white whales played in the ice strewn water, the grey young ones interspersed amongst the group. We then headed towards the main glacier front and appreciated the majestic sight of this glacier with its varied landscape marking its surface. Whilst there we witnessed three carvings, the third of which gave a dramatic display as three big ice wedges peeled from the surface and cascading into the water causing a exciting rush of water forming breaking waves giving an exhilarating end to a wonderful afternoons cruise.

Day 9: Isfjorden and Fredheim

Isfjorden  and Fredheim
Fecha: 28.08.2022
Posición: 78°14.4’N 013°57.1’E
Viento: NE3
Clima: Clear
Temperatura del Aire: +8

The Plancius arrived at Isfjorden this morning. Alkhornet was fully visible in the sunny clear skies – this is the largest bird colony in Svalbard. However, a rather big and fat looking polar bear prevented us from landing here and instead we were able to land a bit further on at Ymerbukta. We all enjoyed the sheltered conditions from the wind here too. The long hikers went higher up to enjoy the views over Alkhornet whilst others stayed a little lower – walking the soft cushioned tundra, which was still covered, in places, with small flowers. Bird activity is not as high this late in the season – nevertheless many kittiwakes and fulmars were flying around together with Brunnich’s Guillemots and quite a few puffins. A curious harbour seal swam along the coast and also briefly investigated our zodiacs. Back onboard, the Plancius set sail to the deepest section of Isfjorden. A few fin whales were seen feeding and a minke whale briefly surfaced at our bow. We next landed at Fredheim. A quick hike up the mountain or a medium and slow walk in the immediate surroundings of a trapper’s hut were on offer. Eiders were swimming along the coastline here and a flock of sandpipers were busily poking their long bills into the rich mud in search of food. The landing ended with the bravest among us who did a polar plunge! A lot of plunging later and we were back onboard our vessel. At 1845 our captain greeted us for a cocktail in the lounge. While we zipped our cocktails, we looked at a slideshow that Karin had prepared for us. Such lovely adventures – what a trip this has been! Beautiful weather, stunning scenery and what a diversity of wildlife we have seen. Let’s toast on that!

Day 10: Longyearbyen

Fecha: 29.08.2022
Posición: 78°13.8’ N 015°36.2’E

We had our final wake-up call from Philipp and, after breakfast with our luggage waiting for us on the pier and the buses arriving it was time to say goodbye to The Little Blue Ship Plancius and to the staff and crew that have looked after us so well for the last 9 days. We have been privileged to sail these Arctic waters and take a glimpse into the lives of the wildlife here and also the effect of the changes that we, as humans are inflicting on the planet. The encounters with polar bears, prime indicators of climate change were unforgettable, but you have to wonder what the future holds for these iconic polar animals.


Código del viaje: PLA12-22
Fechas: 20 ago. - 29 ago., 2022
Duración: 9 noches
Barco: El Plancius
Embarque: Longyearbyen
Desembarque: Longyearbyen

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