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PLA07-19, trip log, North Spitsbergen, In Search of Polar Bear

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation in Longyearbyen

Embarkation in Longyearbyen
Date: 17.06.2019
Position: 78°13’N - 015°36’E
Wind: NW3
Weather: Mostly Sunny
Air Temperature: +6

It was a wonderful sunny day in Longyearbyen when we made our way to the port. The little blue ship Plancius was already waiting for us anchored just beyond the pier. The Expedition Staff met us at the pier and we had the excitement of our first zodiac ride to reach the ship. Hotel manager Zsuszsanna welcomed us and the friendly Philippine crew showed us to our cabins.

We had some time to explore the ship before we all gathered in the Lounge for an introduction to the ship and a safety briefing by first officer Miia. Then the lines were cast off and we were under way, our adventure had begun. The colourful houses of Longyearbyen grew smaller and we sailed out into the Isfjord.

The next program point was the practical part of the lifeboat drill. Equipped with warm clothes and our bright oranges life jackets, we first mustered in the lounge and then went out on deck to inspect the lifeboats. Let’s hope that we will never have to see them from the inside again.

After the drill we were in for a treat: The Captain’s Cocktail. We met our Captain Andrei Zybin and toasted with him and the expedition team to a successful and safe voyage. After learning about what the team had planned for us the following morning, we went down for dinner where we enjoyed the three-course meal served by head chef Khabir.

After dinner one more thing had to be ticket off, we were issued with rubber boots which would accompany us on our adventures and keep us dry and warm. Late in the evening the Midnight sun temped many on the outside decks. The sun wouldn’t set for the next 7 days. With beautiful light and stunning mountains, it was hard to find the way into bed.

Day 2: Billefjorden

Billefjorden
Date: 17.06.2019
Position: 78°39.4’N - 016°49.7’E
Wind: NNW 3
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +5

This sunny morning, we arrived in stunning weather conditions in Billefjorden. At the end of the fjord, in Adolfbukta, there was still some fast ice. The view of the ice and the Nordenskiöld glacier in the background was stunning.

After breakfast everybody went on to the outside decks to enjoy the views until Michael, our expedition leaders called us back in for the mandatory briefings about our behaviour in the Arctic, zodiac operations and of course the polar bear.

After his briefings all went quickly outside again because belugas had been spotted. There were two big groups of in total at least a hundred beluga’s swimming along the ice edge and it was fascinating to see these white whales and to hear their blows. In the meantime, we also spotted a polar bear far away on the fast ice. Our first polar bear! By now everybody was on the outside decks to either enjoy the beluga’s, the curious seals around the ship and to try to find the polar bear on the ice.

We spent easily a couple of hours chatting, spotting, talking and sunbathing on the top deck. Only the first morning … and already so many impressions of the high arctic!

Just before lunch we sailed out and had a quick look in another bay with ice, just in case there would be a polar bear there, and then sailed out of Billefjord. Our next destination was 4 hours away so we had time to sit down and relax.
Early afternoon Arjen gave us a lecture about polar bears so that we can all better appreciate the king of the Arctic when we see him next time.

At about 16.00 hrs we enter Ekmanfjorden. Again, still some ice and some seals resting on the ice. It’s not the best ice though and clearly summer is melting away the hunting grounds of the polar bears. The fjord is beautiful though with very nice mountains, and intriguing small islands called Flintholmen and Coraholmen.

Around 18.00 hrs we start to sail out of Ekmanfjorden and have a recap with information from Michael about our programme of tomorrow. Melissa tells us about the birds we can see in Svalbard and Arjen shows us how to identify whales.

Day 3: 14th Julibukta and Ny London

14th Julibukta and Ny London
Date: 19.06.2019
Position: 79°07.5’N - 011°50.3’E
Wind: Still
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +8

Overnight the captain brought the ship north, around Prins Karlsforland and into Krossfjord. Just after breakfast we moved into the 14th Julibukta, named by an expedition led by the Prince of Monaco after the national holiday in France. This beautiful bay has nice mountains on two sides and a glacier at the end. Here we embarked in the zodiacs and did a split landing and zodiac cruise. One group first headed ashore and enjoyed the bird- and wildlife. Many Reindeer were seen, grazing on the lush vegetation underneath the bird cliffs and several Arctic Skuas and Glaucous Gulls were seen chasing Kittiwakes. The highlight of the landing however, were the famous hanging gardens, a patch of very lush vegetation hanging from a small cliff with many beautiful flowers. Even though many were not in bloom yet as it is quite early in the season, the tundra nicely coloured pink from all the Moss Campion.

The other half first went for a zodiac cruise close to a small bird cliff. The stars of the cruise were a few Puffins on a green rock that were posing nicely. Puffins are not very common on Spitsbergen as they prefer to dig a burrow for their nest, something that is very difficult on Spitsbergen due to the permafrost. Instead they breed on cliffs, something they don’t seem to like too much, hence their low numbers. During the second cruise we also found a Bearded Seal on an ice floe, which also gave many nice photo opportunities. After about an hour and a half, the two groups swapped, so both got the enjoy most activities.

During lunch we headed into Kongsfjord for our afternoon landing at Blomstrandhalvøya. This landing was postponed a bit by a Minke Whale that was seen breaching next to the ship a few times. On shore we all had a look at the remains of Ernest Mansfield’s Northern Exploration Company who had tried to mine for marble here in the early 1900’s. He clearly invested a lot of money, all in vein, as the marble turned out to be of very low quality so he never made any money of it. As was common in these days, he just left all his equipment behind, which now still can be seen. We split up in several different groups, who all enjoyed this place at their own place. The birders enjoyed views of Red-throated Divers and Long-tailed Ducks on the pond and saw several Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones that must be breeding on the tundra and most groups had a looks on Long-tailed Skuas and Spitsbergen Ptarmigans. The hiking group gained some extra elevation to have a better look on the scenery, while the other groups spent some more time exploring the marble mining remains.

Back on the ship it was time for our daily recap where our expedition leader Michael explained the plans for the following day: we would head to the pack ice! All were very excited, about all the nice things we saw today, but also with expectations of what was about to come.

Day 4: Pack Ice

Pack Ice
Date: 20.06.2019
Position: 79°35.7’N - 010°17.0’E
Wind: S6
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +6

Early in the morning on the 20th of June, 2019, we started sailing in through the outskirts of the pack ice north west of Spitsbergen…the ice this year is really close to the coast-line compared the previous season. Under a cover of low clouds and in beautiful light, we kept heading north towards more dense sea ice with high hopes. The early birds spotted the first bear of the day and Michael made the wakeup call around 06.30 that we had a Polar bear on an ice close to us. After the first spotting the bear started to move in our direction giving us a really close meeting. We spent all the morning playing and taking pictures of the amazing (male) bear.

As the day progressed, we navigated through more dense drift ice, and the animal sightings were numerous. Ivory gulls, bearded seals, walrus and various guillemots were spotted in many directions, but one thing we saw just few minutes before the lunch time… 3 Polar bears eating a seal carcass and lying down in the ice. For this reason, the expedition staff decide to give the possibility to have a quick meal to the guests onboard in order to enjoy the Polar bears as much as possible. After a 1 hour of observation the ice closed us and our Captain and his bridge crew cleverly navigated the Plancius around the ice floes and put us in a more comfortable area.

In the afternoon at 3 o’clock Stephanie gave an interesting lecture on the lounge about seals for the German speakers followed by the same lectures about seals but at this time the lecturer was Melissa. After our interesting lectures we had free time to enjoy the beautiful scenery around the ship and take some pictures before our daily recap and another nice dinner on board.
Another day at the office in the High Arctic!

Day 5: Pack ice and Magdalenefjorden

Pack ice and Magdalenefjorden
Date: 21.06.2019
Position: 79°42.1’N - 010°19.2’E
Wind: S4-5
Weather: cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

After yesterday’s excitement we could have a little sleep in but not too long… During breakfast our expedition leader Michael announced that we had spotted three bears on the ice!

This morning was indeed dedicated to the search of more polar bears. The pack ice had considerably changed with the southerly wind we had last night. All the ice was now pushed together. Stunning sight but it also meant that we couldn’t really sail into the ice. Unfortunately, the bears we spotted were quite far away and the ice stopped us from approaching them.

We continued the morning in the ice and enjoyed looking at the stunning light and the occasional harp seals around.

Mid-morning Zsuzsanna called us out to the upper deck to celebrate summer solstice with a nice hot chocolate, even with some Sambucca for those who were really cold.

During lunch we sailed into Magdalenefjord and dropped anchor. It was rather windy but in some parts of the Wagonwaybreen fjord the sun was shining. We dropped the zodiacs and went out for a couple of hours to enjoy the fjord, that was still a full grown glacier some hundred years ago. Right when we left the ship we saw some beluga’s and later on we had some walrus in the water.

The glacier front had not calved recently since hardly any ice was present. However, the glacier was very impressive. On the way back to the ship we passed a little auk colony where hundreds of these little birds fly around like fast moving clouds.

Last but not least we passed at a walrus haul out where we had a chance to see a large group of these heavy weight creatures who were resting on land.

Back at the ship it was time for a briefing by Michael and after that a special midsummernight BBQ on the backdeck. Temperatures were Arctic, but the mood was cheerful! Another incredible day at the top of the world.

Day 6: Lilliehöök and Tinayrebukta

Lilliehöök and Tinayrebukta
Date: 22.06.2019
Position: 79°20.8’N - 011°39.6’E
Wind: Light
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +3

When we woke up this morning, it was overcast and raining a bit. But when the clouds lifted, we found ourselves in Lilliehøøkfjord at the end of Kongsfjord close to the magnificent Lilliehøøkbreen. This stunning glacier front stretches out for 11km and forms a semi-circle at the end of the fjord. After a while, it stopped raining and the colours of the glacier stood out even better. And it got even better, as a Polar Bear was found. First she was swimming, but after a while she climbed onto an iceberg, so we could have a look with the zodiacs. Within a few minutes all zodiacs were lowered, we got dressed and the first zodiacs headed towards the bear. She wasn’t bothered by us at all and kept on licking her paws. As we didn’t want to disturb the bear, we took turns having a look, but fortunately everybody could have great looks on this bear on a blue iceberg. After several rounds, we all had a short look at the glacier, mating Arctic Terns and Arctic Skuas attacking a Kittiwake. Back on the ship, the ship moved out of the fjord and into Tinayrebukta, a small side bay of Krossfjord. Here we had a landing, where we split up again in several groups. All of us had a similar experience, with the long hikers of course gaining more height as the leisurely group. We all had a look at the flowers on the tundra, some of us saw foxes running around, scared off a pair of Pink-footed Geese from their nest, saw a Ptarmigan on nest and a fox trap on the tundra. And all of this in the spectacular setting with Tinayrebreen at the end of the bay.

Back on the ship, it was time for dinner already, where our hotel manager Zsuzsanna gave us the opportunity to thank the hotel team that has been taking so good care for us during the past days. After dinner, quite a few people stayed up in the bar, enjoying the views of the west coast of Spitsbergen as we headed south for our activities for the last day of the trip.

Day 7: Poolepynton and Alkhornet

Poolepynton and Alkhornet
Date: 23.06.2019
Position: 78°25.6’N - 011°58.5’E
Wind: N3
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +8

After a good night’s sleep dreaming about the magnificent polar bear on the glacial ice we had the privilege to observe from close yesterday, today was the day we were going to meet the other king of the Arctic, the Walrus. While we were waiting for the first group to come back to the ship Melissa told us everything we wanted to know about the Majestic sound of whales. We anchored at Poolepynten and we went ashore where we slowly approached the Walrus haul-out site. There were two groups of Walrus on the beach and some in the water. They gave us a nice show, burping and scratching the back of their heads with their flippers. After another delightful lunch, we sailed South towards the entrance of Isfjord. Our last adventure of this expedition was a landing at Alkhornet. The weather was amazing. We were allowed to freely explore the tundra ourselves under the watchful eye of the guides who set up a perimeter. We discovered Reindeer, Foxes, numerous birds among which the very rare Grey Phalarope and furthermore the view was absolutely stunning. At the end of the landing some of us crossed the absolute border of sanity and reason and took the opportunity to plunge into the Arctic water of Isfjord. All arrived safely back to the ship after which we had a toast with our Captain and some words of farewell by Michael. Arjan showed us a touching movie he had shot and edited himself about our first close-bear encounter. Then the call for our final diner onboard MV Plancius was made, and we celebrated a very special voyage with a fantastic final diner.

Day 8: Back to Longyearbyen

Back to Longyearbyen
Date: 24.06.2019
Position: 78°13’N - 015°36’E
Wind: Calm
Weather: partly sunny
Air Temperature: +4

After a lot of commotion during the night from to the people who were on the 2:30 am flight, we woke far too early, at anchor in Longyearbyen, sad to know that we would be leaving the ship soon. Our last breakfast on board was much appreciated, as we didn’t know where our next meal would be coming from. After seven days of pampering we were back at the port of Longyearbyen, and it was time to say goodbye to the crew, the expedition team, but also to new-won friends.

On the dock, we found our luggage and boarded the bus. A last farewell from expedition leader Michael and we dispersed, each of us setting off on our travels and flights, sad to be leaving, but full with impressions of the wonderful landscapes and wildlife of the Arctic.

Remembering Svalbard

Where sunlight falls on glaciers
and mountains rise from the sea

Where fulmars glide on arctic winds
and the bearded seal plays free

Where whales bring their young to feed
and polar bears are found

Where reindeer graze on arctic plants
and walruses abound

Where waters meet the icy north
and the sun we always see

This place – it speaks in ways untold
and is where you will find me . . .

~ Melissa Scott, Expedition Staff

Total distance sailed on our voyage: Nautical miles: 660 nm | Kilometres: 1222 km

On behalf of everyone on board we thank you for travelling with us and wish you a safe journey home.

Details

Tripcode: PLA07-19
Dates: 17 Jun – 24 Jun, 2019
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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