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PLA07-22, trip log, Around Spitsbergen, In the realm of Polar Bear & Ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen

Date: 06.07.2022
Position: 78°14.5’N 015°32.6’E
Wind: SE-5
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +11

Many of the guest arrived at Longyearbyen on the day of embarkation. Throughout the morning the wind started to pick up but regardless of the wind, it was a beautiful bright day. These conditions highlighted the beautiful landscape around Longyearbyen, and many were able to get out and about in the town before joining Plancius in the afternoon. By 1500, guests started to arrive at the pier, eager to get on the zodiacs and head out to find Plancius on anchor in the bay. When those who were lucky enough to make it to Svalbard, amongst all the cancelled flights, were safely on board they were able to find their luggage in their cabins. The evening was somewhat different to usual with some time to relax and enjoy the glow of sun from the west highlighting the complexities in the mountains around us. By the evening we had everyone on board, so the crew lifted the anchor, and we were underway out of Isfjord and heading north into the late-night sun.

Day 2: Smeerenburg fjord and landing

Smeerenburg fjord and landing
Date: 07.07.2022
Position: 79°38.4’N 011°22.1’E
Wind: SE-2
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +11

The day started with the typical morning call of our Expedition leader, Pippa Low. The morning allowed time for some important mandatory briefings, useful information about procedures, protocols, and environmental concerns whilst undertaking an expedition cruise in this beautiful and very important place on the planet. Between briefings we enjoyed the spectacular views from out on deck as we cruised through the channel separating Danksøya from Spitsbergen and along the front of Smeerenburgbreen in Bjørnfjord. The sun shone brightly giving magnificent shadows on the glaciers of the mountains dividing them. In the afternoon we were ready to visit one of the biggest historical sights of the west coast of the Archipelago: Smeerenburg, the “Blubber Town”. This site was one of the largest and is certainly now the best-known whaling station from the 17th century in Spitsbergen. Seven Dutch companies from different towns in the Netherlands had their facilities, including two houses and at least one (double) oven each to render down oil from blubber. The site is quite barren, apart from mosses and lichens. Scurvy grass famously thrives here along with mountain sorrel. The lagoons near the shoreline were thriving with activity from the bird with arctic terns nesting and scurrying off to feed in the shallow waters. It was incredible to observe how accurate they are as they swoop down to pluck their chosen meal from near the water surface due to their adaptations to their vision which eliminates the reflection from the surface of the water. There were several nesting common eiders and Arctic skuas. From the shoreline we walked along the beach to observe the behaviour of the walrus. We were able to see the male walrus hauled out on the beach as well as playing in the water and being inquisitive. We did a medium walk around the remains of the blubber ovens and collected some of the abundant litter to clean up the environment in collaboration with the Clean-up Svalbard project. On the loop around the low plateau area the terrain had many erratic boulders brought down by past glaciers which extended this far. In addition, the permafrost action had created from stone rings with finer muddy areas in the middle which were beginning to show signs of desiccation cracks where they were drying out in this warm weather. The muddy ground is also perfect for preserving the story of passers-by to this promontory… some recent Polar bear footprints were found heading to the west. At the end of our first Arctic landing, we had a zodiac cruise to visit the harbour seal colony situated in a hidden bay, resting on the stones near the beach. We were also able to see some of the remains of the Andrée expedition at Virgohamna from the famous expedition where Andrée and his two companions attempted to reach the north pole by hot air balloon in 1896-97. In the evening when we were all back on board and warmed up, we were joined by the captain in the lounge for a wonderful captains’ cocktails welcome. This was the start of a fantastic evening navigating through the islands at Fair Haven in the clear blue evening skies. Once we were wrapped up in our bunks after an incredible first day, the captain announced that there were some whales near the ship! Many of us rushed up to enjoy this special moment to see the rarely sighted Blue Whale as well as numerous Fin Whales in the midnight sunlight. What a start to the trip!

Day 3: Into the pack ice

Into the pack ice
Date: 08.07.2022
Position: 80°42.6’N 011°42.9’E
Wind: SW-2
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: 0

Plancius sailed to the north during the whole night. At around 8 o’clock, the ship reached the ice edge. The atmosphere is difficult to describe; we are surrounded by fog that gives a unique atmosphere to the place. We were all on the outside decks, living this magical moment in our life, taking pictures, looking in our binoculars to find wildlife. Beyond our eyes we had an unlimited view of the pack ice and this unique environment and ecosystem that makes the arctic so iconic. Plancius sailed into the open drift ice and pushed plates of ice which collided with each other. The light was magical, it alternated between complete fog and some rays of sun forming a halo. We were immersed into a black and white universe, with occasional bursts of blue and grey. Elodie gave us a lecture about the formation, evolution, and climatic issues of arctic sea ice. We learnt that sea ice is a not a dead zone but a very important ecosystem where everything about wildlife is connected. Although conditions are harsh, life thrives above, below, and even within sea ice. Some species depend entirely on the presence of sea ice to survive. Seals and walrus give birth and nurse their pups on the ice, and they look for food near the ice edge and under the ice. Sea ice is also a hunting and breeding ground for polar bears, and a foraging ground for whales. At around 12 o’clock, we had the chance to observe a huge aggregation of hundreds of harp seals swimming and lying on sea ice plates, probably a remaining nursery of last spring. We could observe males with the distinctive black pattern on the back, females with a more homogenous fur and juvenile probably born a couple of months ago. We were so lucky to be able to observe such a big number of seals! In the afternoon at 3 o’clock, Ursula gave us a very interesting and complete lecture about marine mammals. She also spoke about the encounter we had last night: a minke, a blue and a fin whale. Ursula is very passionate about her field and loves sharing knowledge with all of us. It was another amazing day in the high arctic!

Day 4: Landing at Mushamna and Monacobreen zodiac cruise

Landing at Mushamna and Monacobreen zodiac cruise
Date: 09.07.2022
Position: 79°40.1’N 014°09.2’E
Wind: W-5
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +7

Sailing through the sunny polar night brought us back to the North shore of Spitsbergen Island where we entered the Woodfjord in the early morning hours. Old red sediments are dominant this area. The barren slopes are however rather grey coloured in the Northern part but show the typical reddish colouration in the Southern Liefdefjord where we planned to head in the afternoon. In the morning we landed at Mushamna on the west coast of Andrée Land. From afar we could see large hut and various structural remains. The original hut was built here in 1927 by Hilmar Nøis, a famous Norwegian trapper who overall spent 38 years in Spitsbergen! The larger hut, now owned by the Sysselmannen, was built in 1987. In two groups we explored the gentle slope above the huts, enjoying the beautiful view over the fjord and discovered various flowering plants. The moss campion (Silene acaulis) creates bright green cushions of various sizes. As the purple-pinkish flowers always start blooming at the side pointing southwards and moving northwards later in the season, this plant is also called compass moss. It sure was rather difficult to keep going as many small and hidden natural beauties were to be found: Alpine sorrel (Oxyria digyna), Arctic mouse-ear (Cerastium arcticum), the Svalbard poppy (Papaver dahlianum) and the tufted saxifrage (Saxifraga cespitosa). As precipitation in Svalbard is scarce, these plants have developed various strategies to survive in the harsh Arctic tundra. Growing in tufts is one method of allowing the plant to hold water and maintain an inside temperature 2°C greater than the surrounding air temperature. The beauty was sadly interrupted when we discovered the skulls of two reindeers caught in the remains of a fishing net. These animals, perfectly adapted to survive here, were killed by human carelessness washed ashore. In bright sunlight we then sailed across the 13 km wide entrance of the Liefdefjord. After 30 km we reached our next destination, the vertical face of the glacier Monacobreen. Named after Duke Albert I. of Monaco who was the leader of an expedition that mapped the glacier in 1906/07. Until 2015, the glacier was connected to the neighbouring Seligerbreen now interrupted by the steep slope of the mountain Stortingspresidenten. An impressive visualisation of climate change. In calm water we then went on a prolonged zodiac cruise along the glacial front where we found hundreds of Arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea) standing on floating ice. It was amazing to see how tolerant they were to our presence allowing to take countless photos. As we cruised the glacier front, we used our binoculars to discover more of these magnificent birds sitting on the water and flying above. There they profit from calvings stirring up the water column, bringing nutrients and prey to the surface. What an amazing sight! But the life of these small birds is even more impressive as they will, in a few months, start their migration to their second summering grounds in Antarctica. In April, at the beginning of the Antarctic winter, the terns will then fly back to the Arctic covering an amazing distance of 70’900 km round-trip. During the cruise we also had a close sight of an all-creamy-white Ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) flying above our zodiacs. We ended our zodiac cruise with a landing on a small island that has only recently come free from the glacier’s ice cover. What at first looked like a unique idea turned into a rather adventurous landing we won’t ever forget. Back on board Elodie explained in depth how glaciers move, why they calve at the front and what impact this can have.

Day 5: Palanderbukta landing and zodiac cruise at Alkefjellet

Palanderbukta landing and zodiac cruise at Alkefjellet
Date: 10.07.2022
Position: 79°34.1’N 020°40.9’E
Wind: S-2
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +12

Good morning, good morning! And what a beautiful morning it was! We started with a landing and kayaking at Palanderbukta, where we had the option for a longer, fast-paced walk, or a shorter walk along the ridge behind the beach. Before the wind picked up, it was a surprisingly warm today, almost t-shirt weather! Both hikes took us across a few ancient beaches, also known as ‘raised beaches’, which were formed by uplift of the land following the retreat of the glaciers in the last centuries/millennia. This allowed us to find shells above the current seashore, that were hundreds to thousands of years old! We also found evidence of freezing and thawing of the groundwater in the form of spectacular stone rings! Because finer sediment contains more groundwater than in between the bigger rocks, the expanding and contracting of the water during the freezing and thawing creates a lateral movement of the bigger rocks. Eventually the bigger rocks will form beautiful circles, with the finer sediment in the middle. Some flowers managed to manifest themselves on this rocky environment, where only the hardiest plants can grow. Svalbard Poppies were flourishing amongst the pebbles, giving the surface a pale-yellow glow in the bright sunshine. On the way back from the long hike, we had a surprise visit of a male and female Svalbard Ptarmigan, along with many of their chicks. The Svalbard Ptarmigan is the only land-based bird that actually overwinters on Svalbard! The water was very calm and acted like a mirror, which gave the kayakers a beautiful, surreal experience. After the kayaking, the kayakers were able to do a small walk on the beach up to the first ridge after swapping with the team in the water. The afternoon was like a scene from the movie ‘Birds’ by Hitchcock. We did a zodiac cruise along the steep cliffs of Alkefjellet, or Guillemot Mountain, where the guillemots’ nest and swarm in the air. The cliffs were formed by a horizontal intrusion of dolerite into a layer of limestone, giving the cliffs a black colour with light layers above and below it. These cliffs have tiny little ledges, which are perfect for the ca. 65.000 breeding pairs of Guillemots to nest on, as they are difficult to reach by predators such as the Arctic Fox. Speaking of the Arctic Fox, we saw three of them right under the cliffs! One even came up to the rocks and grabbed a bird! What an amazing and special appearance to finish of an incredible day!

Day 6: Torellneset landing and Bråsvellbreen ice cliff of Austfonna

Torellneset landing and Bråsvellbreen ice cliff of Austfonna
Date: 11.07.2022
Position: 79°22.0’N 020°40.9’E
Wind: W-4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +6

Following breakfast, we made a landing in the beautiful wilderness area at Torellneset. At first glance it looked barren and devoid of life. The crew went off scouting for Polar bears and the all-clear signalled our landing. On approach to the landing site, we could smell the Walrus on the beach. What an amazing site greeted us following a short walk where we saw many Walruses both on the beach and in the sea. After spending time with these amazing animals some went for a long and medium hike up the slopes behind the beach whilst others were too fascinated to leave the Walrus and their young so stayed on the beach. Up on the slope we enjoyed spectacular view of the bay surrounding the ship. We also saw many bones and pieces of wood scattered on the pebbles. Too soon we all met back at the landing site and returned to the ship where fried chicken and profiteroles awaited us. A fabulous morning in all respects. During lunch the ship began to travel to Bråsvellbreen - the largest calving ice front in the northern hemisphere. When we arrived, we saw 40-80m ice cliffs with many majestic waterfalls. The weather turned chilly with a breeze blowing across the sea from the ice. We travelled along this ice front for several hours and at 1630 we were treated by Aleks, our hotel manager, to a special Hot Chocolate behind the bridge. We continued the cruise along the ice and spent the rest of the afternoon taking pictures and watching this unbelievable sight pass by. Soon it was time for recap where the team told us more about the things we had seen during the day.

Day 7: Kapp Walburg landing and Polar bear zodiac cruise

Kapp Walburg landing and Polar bear zodiac cruise
Date: 12.07.2022
Position: 78°14.7’N 021°31.7’E
Wind: NW-3
Weather: Rain Showers
Air Temperature: +8

Good morning Plancius! Rise and shine! It was foggy, rainy, beautiful morning. Welcome to Barentsøya! It has a surface area of 1,288 sq.-km and is thus the fourth largest island in Svalbard, it has a very short history due to extremely difficult ice conditions in historical times. After the breakfast we were ready to go for the exploration of Kapp Waldburg: named after Carl Marie Eberhard count of Waldburg-Zeil-Wurzach, sponsor and leader of an expedition to Spitsbergen in 1870. From the very first steps on the landing site, we noticed that the regional tundra belongs to the high arctic “Polar willow zone”, but it was still surprisingly diverse. We saw a beautiful saxifrage species, together with buttercups and Svalbard poppies. This rich tundra provides food for a large local population of reindeer that certainly enjoy a better life than their comrades on barren Nordaustland. So, from the first look we spotted quite a few reindeer, and it was just the beginning of the day - a day of full of discoveries! Before we even reached the cliff with a bird colony, we already spotted four arctic foxes moving towards the cliff to make sure that any eggs and chicks that had fallen down from the narrow ledges are not wasted. The bird cliff itself was fantastic, with thousands of nesting Black-Legged-Kittiwakes and their grey fluffy chicks. After a lunch, plan A was to go Kapp Lee. However, our captain, who was up on the bridge, spotted a Polar bear on the northern shore of Freemansund, a Polar bear! It was our first our Polar bear of the trip, but not the last. So, as on real expedition we were faced with unpredictable situations. Our Expedition Leader came with a plan B, which was to go for a ships cruise along the shore and observe the bear’s behaviour. Soon, we spotted another Polar bear on the steep slopes of Freemansund. A call was made to continue watching the Polar bear from the zodiacs where we could be lower to the water. After a good hour of watching the Polar bear, we were about to go back to the ship but then we spotted a third Polar bear so we continued our zodiac cruise. It was an incredible encounter, and after another hour on the choppy waters of Freemansund, we finished our fantastic zodiac cruise and came back to the ship, from here we spotted a fourth Polar bear on a plain further away! Back on board we had an interesting recap by our EL on Polar bears and plans for tomorrow. After A la Carte dinner, we had a chance to exchange our experience with each other and go through all the pictures we took throughout the day, many! It was a perfect way to end the day. Good night Plancius. Tomorrow will be another day full of new discoveries.

Day 8: Gåshamna landing and Burgerbukta zodiac cruise, Hornsund

Gåshamna landing and Burgerbukta zodiac cruise, Hornsund
Date: 13.07.2022
Position: 76°56.6’N 015°49.8’E
Wind: NE-4
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +7

Due to our fantastic afternoon yesterday, where we were able to watch the Polar bears for the afternoon, we had a later start to the day this morning. The low cloud hung around the mountains as we approached Hornsund. The waves had made some noticeable motion on Plancius during the night as we had passed from Barentsøya, across Storfjord and around the southern tip of Spitsbergen. Storfjord is the stretch of sea separating Edgeøya and Barentsøya from east Spitsbergen and is known for having heavy ice conditions due to the East-Spitsbergen current bringing cold water and ice from the Polar Ocean. However, we did not experience any ice here primarily due to the time of year. By late morning we were ashore at Gåshamna, meaning Goose Bay, and ready to start walking to warm up on this damp Wednesday morning. The landing site did not disappoint with its spectacular views of the mountainous scenery, several puffins flying by and some evidence of human history. There were several mounds on the beach with large whale bones around which are believed to be remains of the blubber ovens used by whalers. We could also see a small hut on the beach providing evidence of the trappers, pomors and even some scientific expedition work. From the viewpoint visited by the long hikers, we could see across to the Polish research base on the north side of Hornsund. We were all back on board for a late lunch to warm us up. As is typical for this area, the cloud lingered as we motored over to Burgerbukta on the north side of Hornsund. However, not long after lunch the sun managed to emerge, and the clouds lifted to reveal the peaks of the high mountains around us. Hornsundtind looked particularly magnificent being the highest mountain in south Spitsbergen at 1,429 metres. The mountains surrounding us where we anchored had an incredible range of colours from reds at the base, through yellows and browns to dark black at the peaks. We were able to cruise through this landscape in the zodiacs in the afternoon. This was a wonderful experience to feel part of the landscape with the ice crackling around us, blocks of glacier ice surrounding the zodiacs and jagged cliffs rising between the crevassed glaciers. Having had such a good week so far this was the perfect moment to turn the engine off and enjoy the retrospective pleasure of the trip so far and the peaceful yet magical landscape surrounding us. As we neared the calving glacier front the eager bird spotter amongst us pointed out an Ivory Gull sweeping over the ice cliff ahead of our zodiac. Before long a second was spotted flying so elegantly in the ice filled bay. As we headed back to the Plancius, we were surprised to feel a drastic increase in air temperature as we rounded the promontory in the entrance to the fjord. Back on board we had a recap from Keechy, Beth and Pippa before being invited to the aft deck for a special dinner. This was a wonderful evening of chatting with those we had met on the trip and enjoy the delicious barbeque food prepared by the galley here on Plancius! There is a wonderful atmosphere of satisfaction and happiness on board as we reflect on the wonderful trip and look forward to the final day of expedition!

Day 9: Zodiac cruise at Reinodden and ships cruise with Beluga Whales, Bellsund

Zodiac cruise at Reinodden and ships cruise with Beluga Whales, Bellsund
Date: 14.07.2022
Position: 77°33.4’N 014°50.0’E
Wind: E-4
Weather: Partly Cloudy
Air Temperature: +12

The wake-up call this morning made all of us jump out of bed, as there was another Polar bear on shore! The big guy was quite close to the waters’ edge, so we decided to cancel our landing and go for a zodiac cruise. By the time we were all in the zodiacs, however, the bear had decided to go for a walk and was going away from us. It was still nice to follow him as he was walking and then… King eiders! As Beth had just talked about their funny looking beak in recap the day before, it was extra exciting to see them now in real life! There were many birds in the area, so we kept cruising along the shoreline. We saw numerous Common Eiders with many, many chicks, as well as Barnacle geese and their chicks on the beach. Little auks were flying around us and every now and then an Arctic tern was fishing for some food amidst the zodiacs. The beautiful Black guillemots were diving and feeding too, and we were surprised by a couple of Bearded seals. After a birdy morning, we were starting to relax again on the boat, patiently awaiting lunch when… BELUGA BELUGA 11 o’clock! And we did not see one, not two, but what felt like a hundred Beluga’s all around the ship! We cruised amidst the pods of Beluga’s for nearly an hour - it was absolutely amazing! They came really close to the ship, so we could see their little eyes without needing binoculars. We could also distinguish that there were some youngsters in the pods, as they were a bit more greyish than the other white whales. Ironically, this was all really close to our original landing site, Bamsebu, from where they used to hunt the Beluga’s and you can still find their bones on the beach. Luckily, we got to see them alive! Ship cruising around the Beluga’s did delay our afternoon plans, and because the swell was really high at our second landing site, the decision was made to head north towards Longyearbyen and enjoy the scenery from the ship. In the afternoon, Elodie gave us a brilliant lecture about how not to get to the North Pole, the tale of Salomon Andrée and his Arctic balloon adventure. After an amazing week with the most stunning scenery and plenty of wildlife (and flowers and rocks!), we made it back to Isfjord and finally Longyearbyen, ready for disembarking the next morning.

Day 10: Arrival back into Longyearbyen

Arrival back into Longyearbyen
Date: 15.07.2022
Position: 78°13.8’ N 015°36.2’E
Wind: S-4/5
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +10

Back in Longyearbyen the crew did a fantastic job of getting the ship and zodiacs in the right places at the right times to get us all to our desired onward journeys successfully. We certainly lucked out for this disembarkation as we were able to go alongside the pier. After delicious last breakfast on board of French toast and fresh fruit it was time to say our goodbyes. It is a sad moment to disembark from the Plancius, which has been a comfortable and cosy home during this unforgettable journey. We have shared many unique moments, seen a range of rarely sighted wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories we now must head to our onward journeys. Kayak Trip Log Alexis Bellezze and David Horkan Kayaking around Spitsbergen, a day in the pack ice looking for whales and hundreds of harp seals around us, the search for Polar bears in different bays, cliffs and close to the glaciers, paddling in a middle of nowhere in silence, with no engine but your soul and your arms, that is what we call proper exploration. A unique opportunity to be closer to everything around you. Monacobreen We started early in the afternoon at Monacobreen, a glacier that has retreated enough so that what was once one large glacier front is now split into two smaller fronts by a mountain. From this mountain we saw rocks falling from the top of a steep mountain in between the glaciers. We observed a colony of kittiwakes at the glacier. Many sounds surrounded us including the booming from calvings in the distance. Occasionally we caught sight of an impressive mass of ice disintegrating after it collapsed into the sea, spreading growlers of ice that drift with the wind. This was an excellent start to the learning process to build foundations for a busy week in the archipelago. Alkefjellet After that, we went to Alkefjellet, “Guillemot mountain”, a great and long cliff of basaltic columns that serves as a breeding ground for 60,000 pairs of Brünnich’s guillemots, kittiwakes, glaucus gulls and Northern Fulmars. The atmosphere was magnificent, and we were truly part of the landscape with the noise of the birds, the vibrating walls, the birds swimming and flying around us. We were lucky to see three Arctic foxes, one even feeding on a fallen bird, and the others looking for hunting opportunities at the base of the rock pillars. The experience was simply unbelievable and overwhelming. Palanderbukta The day after we had a relaxing morning at Palanderbukta. We had the chance to practice and improve our paddling techniques, the bay was calm, no waves, no wind and not cold at all. In silence we had the chance to listen to a walrus in the distance. Luckily the walrus was not so interested so it did not disturb our morning of kayaking. This was perfect kayak training time allowing some of the kayakers to became more confident and they were extremely happy. Torellneset Another day under more challenging conditions was celebrated at Torellneset. While we were paddling, several Common Eider ducks and a reindeer came from the plateau toward us. The zodiac safety driver was checking the proximity of many walruses in the area of the glacier and as a result, decided to bring the kayaking to an end earlier than planned. This gave us time to observe the animal behaviour from a distance in the zodiac on our way back to the ship. Many of the walruses showed interest in the visitors and check us with curiosity. The last session happened at Burgerbukta, the perfect place for a farewell to the Arctic! In a bay surrounded by jagged mountains and beautiful clouds in the sky. The landscape was dramatic. Extremely beautiful mountains and an ocean littered with ice. There was silence amongst us as we listened to the crackling ice and the rolling icebergs. It was magical. We were paddling with more freedom but under supervision of the kayak guides and the zodiac driver. We enjoyed the icebergs and the quiet afternoon in one of the most beautiful places in Svalbard. We want to wish you all more adventures in beautiful places like this one, and hope that we can paddle around the Antarctic sound in the future. It was a pleasure for us to share this passion and respect for nature and wildlife with you. Thank you very much and see you soon!!


Tripcode: PLA07-22
Dates: 6 Jul - 15 Jul, 2022
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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