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OTL05-18, trip log, North Spitsbergen – Polar Bear Special

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation, Longyearbyen

Embarkation, Longyearbyen
Date: 12.06.2018
Position: 78°13.9‘N, 015°37.6‘E
Wind: SSE 3
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

Our adventure began as we stepped in the zodiac in order to get to M/V ORTELIUS, our comfortable floating home for the next seven days. Since Longyearbyen’s foundation as a coal mining settlement in 1906 by John Munro Longyear, it has been the start point for many historic and pioneering expeditions. With all guests and their baggage safely on board, we departed in the late afternoon. As we cruised into the Isfjord we spotted, amongst others, fulmars, black guillemots, Kittiwakes and Little Auks.

We gathered together in the lounge for briefings and introductions. The lifeboat drill provided an opportunity for dressing up and getting to know each other as we huddled together like orange-breasted sea birds on the deck, peering into lifeboats. The evening continued in safety with champagne and high hopes for a successful voyage.

Expedition Leader Rinie, together with the captain proposed a toast to our expedition aboard M/V ORTELIUS. The wind speed increased as we headed out into open water and by 22.00 most folks were in bed, which is the best place to be should there be any motion sickness.

Day 2: North Spitsbergen, Raudfjord, Fuglefjorden

North Spitsbergen, Raudfjord, Fuglefjorden
Date: 13.06.2018
Position: 79°36.5’N, 010°03.7’E
Wind: SW 2
Weather: overcast, later sunshine
Air Temperature: +5

During the night we moved along the West coast of Spitsbergen and in the morning, we found us north of the main Island of the archipelago. After the breakfast we had some mandatory meetings about how to behave in Polar Bear country and how to get to shore by zodiac.

While the Expedition Staff handed us out the Rubberboots Ortelius sailed into the Raudfjord (Red fjord) for a planned landing in order to get the possibility to explore the coast and to stretch the legs a bit. The fog had lifted in the meantime and one could see why the fjord had its name. Red sedimentary rocks (Old Red) which were about 600 million years old, mainly Hematite, was the main rock of the area. Right at the entrance of that fjord an announcement came via the PA-system – BELUGAS ARE AHEAD!!

These beautiful small whales were all around us, hard to count but maybe something like 50 animals. We watched them traveling into and out of the fjord, there were white, or better creamy yellow and grey ones which are adults and young ones. Obviously, they enjoyed as well the beautiful scenery of the Raudfjord with the pointy mountains in red colour and glaciers all around. We later sailed deeper into the fjord till the glacier front of the side fjord named Ayerfjord. On the way Rinie checked landing possibilities but snow was still dominating the landscape, so no landing, BUT Rinie has always a Plan B (and C and D….). While lunch time the captain sailed us right next to the Fuglefjorden with the huge Svitjodbreen at the inner part. After a break the new plan was published in a meeting: a zodiac cruise into the Fuglefjorden was waiting for us.

At that place about 400 years ago the Dutch discoverer Willem Barentsz discovered Land and named it Spitsbergen. We drove with the zodiacs in-between smaller and bigger rocky islands where different species of birds were nesting, amongst others Great Skuas, Barnacle Geese and Arctic Terns. We came step by step closer towards the glacier front we enjoyed from a distance. On the way we met a couple of bearded seals on ice floes, nice to observe, those second largest seals up here in the high arctic. We all experienced nice moments in the fjord which we captured with all our senses and with our cameras. Later back on board the new plan was a kind of written and we got to know that we will head further north during the evening and during the night on the search for more wildlife.

Day 3: North of the Seven Islands

North of the Seven Islands
Date: 14.06.2018
Position: 81°31.8’N, 018°43.5’E
Wind: calm
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +3

We had a calm and quiet overnight passage and we awoke to find ourselves in the Polar Pack Ice. Such a wonderful experience on a bright sunny morning - an experience not had by many people on Earth.

The sea ice was good, quite extensive, and soon after breakfast we began our bear watch. By eleven o’clock we sighted our first bear. It was a young male – approximately 4 to 5 years old. At first it came close but then he lost interest in Ortelius and moved away. We had good views and the photographers – especially the ones with the long lenses- were happy enough.

We enjoyed a buffet lunch and afterwards we resumed out scanning for bears. Shortly afterwards another bear was seen but it too was unwilling to come close. Nevertheless, we enjoyed seeing it in its splendid natural habitat of the Arctic wilderness.

In the afternoon, Barbara gave a presentation: Ecosystems in the Sea Ice. The wind was cold but the sun also shone and the light was good enough for good photography. Several species of seabirds followed our ship benefitting from the food revealed by the broken ice floes. Several Ivory Gulls landed on the ice close to the ship much to the delight of the birders.

Two more bears were sighted but neither of them came close to the ship. One of them left the ice floe and swam away. The ease with which he took to the sea demonstrated the reason they are considered to be marine mammals.

We had our recap and briefing t 18.30 and this was followed by dinner at 19.00.

After dinner some folks resumed the vigilance for bears but most of us were in bed by 11.00 o clock. A night in the ice with no sunset or sunrise lay ahead of us.

Day 4: North of the Seven Islands

North of the Seven Islands
Date: 15.06.2018
Position: 81°50.1`N, 020°58.7`E
Wind: calm
Weather: overcast, sunshine
Air Temperature: +2

It is a quiet morning. The Ortelius lies embedded in the loose pack-ice, amidst the ice-floes.
What a very special experience to spend the night on an all-quiet ship in a completely white world. One can only wonder how many people would have spent the night further north of our current position…

After a filling breakfast, everyone’s mind turned to the focus of the day, finding polar bears! The weather was perfect, very good visibility, a bit overcast and no wind. It did not take long until the first polar bear has been spotted. A wonderful male polar bear, around 12 years old with a little scar on the chest. He certainly was curious, sniffing in the air, trying to get a good scent of us, but did not come closer to the ship. Light conditions have been perfect, a good opportunity to get some pictures with the reflection of the bear in the sea. After lunch we found our second bear of the day, another male polar bear. This bear had a scar on his right front leg, very typically for male bears who already competed over the mating right.

It too moved on across the ice and although we didn’t get very close we had good views of the ‘King of the Arctic’ as it crossed the ice with ease. Later in the afternoon, around four o`clock, another bear has been seen, showing a “strange” behaviour. Still far in the distance this hungry bear was clearly on a mission, walking in the direction of a seal resting on the edge of it`s breathing hole. The bear was moving very slow in a lowered position, sometimes stopping and looking up towards the seal. This way of hunting is called “Stalking on ice”. Suddenly the bear changed his hunting strategy and lowered itself gently in the water some distance away from the seal. Now everything was happing very quick. The bear dove in direction breathing hole, launched itself out of the water to attack. It grabbed the young ringed seal within seconds and killed it. What a show!!! This hunting method is called aquatic stalk.

The ship now approached closer to the bear and we had a good look on the female bear and its prey. She dragged the dead seal away from the breathing hole and started to hide it in the snow. After some time of good observation, we left her feeding. At recap we learned more about belugas and the different hunting methods of polar bears.

After this most special day on a ‘Polar Bear Special’, the fog rolled over the ice and it was time for us to turn south.

Day 5: Sorgfjord

Sorgfjord
Date: 16.06.2018
Position: 80°18.2’N, 016°37.5’E
Weather: overcast with patches of sun and WINDY!
Air Temperature: +3

We all headed South again through the beautiful sea ice, passing through patches of fog and always still on the look out for wildlife. Northern Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Brunich’s Guillemots were, as always, our companions.

Strong winds from the south meant that we could not continue with our original plan down into the Hinlopen Strait. Instead we sought shelter in the nearest fjord: Sorgfjord which we reached in time for lunch. Sorgfjord cuts 15kilomteres inland and was the scene of one of the most significant battles where 3 french war ships attacked 40 Dutch whaling ships.

We stayed onboard surrounded by beautiful high arctic mountain and tundra scenery. After dining in comparatively calm waters of the anchorage Rinie entertained us with his first talk on the Hunting Strategies of polar bears so we could reflect and better understand the kill we had ourselves witnessed that morning. After a short coffee break and some fresh air we were again educated by Rinie with an excellent lecture on the Breeding and Reproduction of polar bears in the region.

By evening the winds has reduced sufficiently to permit us to continue our route westward and then south to Magdalena Fjord.

Day 6: Magdalenefjorden

Magdalenefjorden
Date: 17.06.2018
Position: 79°33.7’N, 011°03.8’E
Wind: ESE 3
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +9

Following our exciting voyage from the pack ice, we had smooth travels through the night and woke to a wonderful breakfast as we arrived to Magdalenefjorden. The skies were overcast but the seas were calm and we were very hopeful for what we were to find ashore. We were not disappointed. As we approached our anchorage, we spotted a group of resting male walrus.

Excitement was high as the crew launched the zodiacs and we were off for our first excursion of the day. While some of us landed to visit with the walrus, others cruised the fjord to catch a glimpse of the other inhabitants. There were sightings of Arctic fox, King eider, and Atlantic puffin as well as a preview of the Little auk colony we would visit in the afternoon.

All of this while surrounded by stunning snow-capped mountains and incredible tidewater glaciers. We returned to the ship for a warm lunch and little rest before gearing up for our next adventure. Those who had interest, joined the expedition leaders to visit the little auk colony. What an experience to sit and watch these beautiful little birds at their nesting site. The air was filled with their calls as came and went from the rocks and a few snow buntings added their song to the day as well. Those who needed to stretch their legs a bit, landed on the other side of the fjord for a little walk to view Gullybreen Glacier.

Upon arriving back to the ship, spirits were high from a day well spent. The bar was filled with happy voices as they shared photos and stories from the day. Not long after, we were called to the back deck for a “extreme” bbq dinner! The weather was not perfect but the crew had put on a feast for us and we enjoyed warm drinks and many laughs.

Day 7: Isfjord & Alkhornet

Isfjord & Alkhornet
Date: 18.06.2018
Position: 78°10.5’N, 013°47.1’E
Wind: SW 10
Weather: sunshine
Air Temperature: +9,2

After delicious breakfast from time to time on horizon line we could see blows of Blue Whales, largest mammals living on our planet. Just after lunch Rinie gave us more information about further plans and landing in one of the most beautiful places in Spitsbergen – Alkhornet. Huge area of unfrozen permafrost active layer with patterned ground (ice wedges) and 428 m characteristic peak above. This place we can call “Spitsbergen in a nutshell, because this area has most of those features that you can find around archipelago.

From distance we could see bird cliff occupied by dozens of Kittiwakes and Brünich guillemots but on flat tundra we could see nice groups of Barnacle geese, Svalbard reindeers walking few meters around us and lucky ones could see Arctic fox sneaking around huge boulders trying to find some food. After great time in Alkhornet we set course to Longyearbyen. At 19.00 we gathered in the Bar for a toast to the successful voyage. Soon afterwards, we flocked to the Dining Room for our last dinner on board.

Day 8: Longyearbyen

Longyearbyen
Date: 19.06.2018
Position: 78°13.8‘N, 015°36.2‘E

Way too soon our Arctic was now coming to an end – and what a remarkable week it had been! Around midnight Ortelius arrived at the pier in Longyearbyen, and those passengers leaving on the early-morning flight disembarked the vessel. All others enjoyed a quiet night in their cabins.

When for the last time Rinie woke us up in the morning, we put our big luggage in the corridors as asked, so the crew could take it off the ship for us. After the last breakfast on board, it was time to say goodbye. Goodbye to our ship and its crew and staff, goodbye to our new friends. Arrangements were made to stay in touch and farewells were said. We could look back on an impressive trip, and all of us had many memories of wildlife and spectacular scenery during our days in the ice, our Zodiac-cruising activities and our shore landings. Finally, we handed in the keys to our cabins, picked up our luggage from the pier and made our way into town or to the airport for our onward journeys. May we meet again somewhere, someday!

Thank you all for joining us on this Arctic adventure, for your great company, good humour and enthusiasm. We hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed: 853 Nautical Miles

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Mika Appel, Expedition Leader Rinie van Meurs, Hotel Manager Sebastian Duma and all the crew and staff, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Tripcode: OTL05-18
Dates: 12 Jun – 19 Jun, 2018
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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