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PLA09-23, trip log, Around Spitsbergen - in the realm of polar bear & ice

by Oceanwide Expeditions


Day 1: Longyearbyen, Embarkation Day

Longyearbyen, Embarkation Day
Date: 24.07.2023
Position: NW 3
Wind: 78°14.6’N / 015°32.6’E
Weather: Partly cloudy
Air Temperature: +10

We began arriving in Longyearbyen in the afternoon, having travelled from all over the world to reach the spectacular archipelago of Svalbard. Once everyone was on board, we took part in all the necessary safety briefings and were shown where important safety features of the ship are. We then spent some time familiarising ourselves with the layout of our new home MV Plancius and enjoying the views outside as we set sail. Before dinner Captain Artur wished us well on our journey with a toast in the lounge, and Expedition Leader Christophe introduced himself as well es the whole expedition team. We then set off to the restaurant for a delicious first buffet dinner.

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: Kronebreen & Ossiansarsfjellet

Kronebreen & Ossiansarsfjellet
Date: 25.07.2023
Position: SE 2
Wind: 78°53.6’N / 012°22.5’E
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +6

First morning on the ship for all of us. Early in the morning our expedition leader Christophe woke us up over the announcement, which we could hear while were still lying in our beds or some of us were already in the lounge or on the outer decks. Then 30 minutes later, breakfast was ready for us on Deck 3. We could choose between fresh fruits, some eggs and so much more. Immediately after breakfast, we had our briefings for our Zodiac operations and Polar bear safety. And in the end, we watched a movie from AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operator). The drill was clear after our briefing on how to enter a Zodiac, how to behave in case of an evacuation because of a Polar Bear.

We had our first Zodiac cruise in the Arctic in front of the Kronebreen. The guides were navigating us through the ice and bringing us closer to the glacier. Our first pictures from ice were safe. We had a closer look to the ice and could hold this Arctic ice in our hands. As we were looking at the glacier, it was calving. A big piece fell down in the water. After a while the waves which were created by this calving reached us in the Zodiac, an amazing feeling being so close to the nature.

After lunch we planned to go to Ny-Alesund, but sadly we had to much fog for a safe operation in this region with Polar bears. So we had to cancel this landing but we were going to another place called Ossiansarsfjellet. We did a Zodiac cruise along the cliffs. We saw breeding Kittiwakes and breeding Brünnich’s Guillemots up high in the cliff. And while we were watching them a Reindeer appeared at the shoreline. So we had a look at our first Reindeer. It already lost almost all its winter fur and the colour was greyish. It was feeding on the tundra. Tundra is the place where we have no trees. A bit further on, we even could watch a polar fox walking around underneath the cliffs.

Back on the ship we had our first recap, where we got more information about what we saw and the plans for the next day. After the recap, we went to the restaurant for dinner. We had just finished our main course as we got informed that we’re having our first polar bear. It was in front of our boat in a little bay, eating on a walrus carcass. This bear was collared, so it was a female. Only females get colored, because their necks are smaller than the males. After a while he finished eating and went for a nap.

Day 3: Raudfjorden & Raudfjordbreen

Raudfjorden & Raudfjordbreen
Date: 26.07.2023
Position: NNW 3
Wind: 79°47.5’N / 011°55.6’E
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: +7

After another brilliant breakfast, we started to go ashore for our first hikes in the true wilderness of Spitsbergen. We were in Raudfjorden, the red fjord so named due to the red Devonian rocks in the mountain sides. This morning we landed at Kapp Svensksund, named after a Swedish vessel from the Arc de Meridian expedition. The sea was flat, and the sun was out. What a day!

We all gathered at the beach and split into our three hiking groups. Koen, Carina, and Bee led the long hikers up to a stunning viewpoint on the Rivieratoppen. The medium group, led by Caroline, Christoff, and Karoline, visited a small hill with a cairn and beautiful views of the fjord. We could hear the call of the juvenile guillemots on the cliffs above as the parents came with food. The short walk included beach views, flowers, and lots of driftwood. We observed sandpipers, kittiwakes, terns, and surprisingly for Svalbard, quite a few mosquitoes. Everyone of very happy to stretch their legs and be out in nature taking in the Arctic scenery.

After lunch and a bit of a rest, we were suddenly enclosed in fog, and it was time for some quick thinking and a plan B. We headed for the nearest big glacier, Raudfjordbreen, as there is often less fog there due to the cold ice. And we had luck! It was clear and we embarked the Zodiacs again. The sun came out just as we lowered our Zodiacs and set off towards the glacier. It was looking spectacular in the sunshine. As we slowly made our way along the face of the glacier, we could see birds like kittiwakes and Arctic terns feeding at the base of it where there had been recent calving events, eating small fish and crustaceans that had been disturbed by the falling ice. Arctic terns have the longest migration of any bird species, flying all the way from the Arctic to Antarctica each year. Some of the boats even saw a bearded seal and four great skuas.

We made a short impromptu landing at the east side of the glacier some 500m from the front to look at the ice on the shore and observe the glacier before heading home to the Plancius.

We then enjoyed a beautiful plated dinner before relaxing in the lounge and enjoying the scenery outside. Now we sail north towards the pack ice!

Day 4: A Day in the Pack Ice

A Day in the Pack Ice
Date: 27.07.2023
Position: N 3
Wind: 80°53.9’N / 016°40.0’E
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +2

Our fourth day on board Plancius would prove to be a fantastic day! It was our first sea ice day, the moment many of us saw sea ice for the very first time. Previously on the trip, on our Zodiac cruises, we had experienced glacial ice, composed of freshwater in the shape of icebergs with different shades of blue shining through. Today, however, we experienced something new. We woke up to a horizon filled with sea ice. Being in the pack ice, hearing it move, seeing the colors, and feeling the magical atmosphere at the top of the globe is a unique experience. The bridge team excellently navigated us through the ice finding channels and spots in which Plancius could push through and weave her way through the ice flows. It was a perfect sight to wake up to. But for many onboard, it was not our first wake up.

At approximately 1245 in the morning, Christophe woke up the ship with the announcement of “something strange and special” nearby. Those that arose for the announcement were treated with the sight of a dead and decaying juvenile sperm whale carcass. The cause of death was unknown, but there were a few speculations. The carcass also attracted many bird species, specifically northern fulmars, and an ivory gull! The ivory gull is a highly sought after bird in the Arctic.

After about half an hour of examining the carcass, the ship pushed on and all guests went back to sleep.

After breakfast it was all eyes to help spot wildlife. The expedition and bridge team were on a watch. We spotted many seals first thing in the morning, which is a good indication of possible polar bear sightings. We also saw guillemots and kittiwakes.

After a nice lunch, the ship changed heading in search of an area with big ice flows and more wildlife. Finding the right ice takes skill, experience, and a bit of luck. We use ice charts that show percentage of sea covered in ice to try to voyage plan and luckily, we have many experiences staff and crew on board to guide the search. After a bit of search, guests were treated to another polar bear sighting. This time the bear was hunting! We were lucky enough to watch the polar bear successfully hunt a seal and drag it onto an ice flow before devouring its meal. What an incredible sight! The first bear of the trip was a female feasting on a walrus carcass, but seeing a bear hunting and catching its meal was even more special.

Next on the daily agenda was recap to learn more information from our expedition team about what we have been seeing. Then back to the restaurant for a delicious meal. All smiles onboard when heading off to bed!

Day 5: Pack Ice and Ice Landing

Pack Ice and Ice Landing
Date: 28.07.2023
Position: 80°46’.3 N, 019°37’.9 E
Wind: Still
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: -1

Let’s explore some more of the Arctic Sea ice today. Yesterday was amazing already, but the world is never done with organizing new and beautiful surprises. We started the day with a delicious breakfast in our restaurant while the expedition team was trying to find a good piece of sea ice to land on. They started early in the morning and found a very good candidate.

Plans were in the making and guides had been sent down to their cabins to change however, Elizabeth the expedition guide had found a Polar bear in the distance. Just like yesterday this threw the whole plan around and the captain made ready for a route towards the bear. On our way to the bear, we found another bear that was resting on a piece of ice just at the edge of a massive plateau of sea ice.

The captain slowed down which made it possible for us to observe the bear from up close. Slowly getting closer the bear kept laying in the same place in complete ignorance to our giant ship approaching. There was no wind whatsoever which made it possible to get a complete mirror reflection from the bear in the water. An absolute wonderful experience seeing a Polar bear in its own habitat being so relaxed. After a while observing the bear, it stood up and started sniffing around.

We already had confirmed the bear to be a female and as females are more curious than males, she made her way slowly to the ship. We could see her reflection in the water while she was putting out her tong and opening her mouth to get more details about us. The most surprising moment was when she walked right next to our ship almost touching the outer wall. Something that almost never happens during the Arctic summer season. She finally found out that we had nothing of her interest, so she moved on and walked away into the open sea ice.

Afterward we made our way further up north into the direction of 0° north to follow the tracks of another polar bear that the expedition team had spotted. On our way up north, we made our way again by the female polar bear which was resting in between of some hummocks. Soon after the expedition team had spotted the larger yellow polar bear again, so we went further up north. The second bear was not as interested as the first. We could make out that it was a male and without changing his attitude walked alongside our ship towards the west. This together with the sun in the back made a beautiful contrast of a Polar bear walking over the sea ice looking for his next meal.

Day 6: Alkefjellet & Ardneset

Alkefjellet & Ardneset
Date: 29.07.2023
Position: 79°28.4’N / 019°03.6’E
Wind: Still
Weather: Drizzle
Air Temperature: +5

Our daily wake-up call was already at seven o’clock in the morning. We were ready for a new adventure at a new place Alkefjellet. The place of the Brünnich’s Guillemot. Not less than 66'000 pairs are nesting there. Short after eight we went with our drill in three steps in our Zodiacs and then we were cruising first towards the waterfall. We had all the Brünnich’s guillemot sitting in the water. Our Zodiac drivers tried their best to disturb the birds as less as possible.

When we reached these outstanding cliffs which are more than 150 million years old the dolomites also known as basalt. Cruising along the cliffs showed us more and more how many birds were nesting there from the top till the bottom of the cliffs. The Brünnich’s guillemot have two big predators: The Polar fox and the Glaucous Gull both kinds we were able to see. We even could see the little chicks of the Glaucous Gull. The Brünnich’s Guillemot are facing the rocks while they are incubating or nesting. The shape of the egg looks like a pear. So that the egg spins when it gets touched and not just rolls down. They incubate about a month and three weeks later the chicks are leaving their nest in jumping down from the cliffs into the water. After 3 weeks in the water, they can fly and flying out to the sea. In the end we could see a beautiful glacier. Back onboard we had a great lunch and then we went to Whalbergoya / Ardneset.

We did another Zodiac cruise and we were expecting Walruses. But next that we even had two more bears. One was lying on the snow and doing some kind of stretching and sort of yoga. The other one was walking around and tried to hide from us. But it was still visible lying on top of the stones. Then we cruised further to see a whale carcass with a Glaucous gull and an Ivory gull on it. After that it wasn’t finished yet we drove around the corner to see the walruses in the water and a big haul out too. They have big tusks which can get up to one meter. They use them to help them to pull themself up to the ice.

In the evening we were sailing towards the Brasvelbreen but the fog stopped us from seeing it but next to that we had our BBQ outside on deck 3. We had dinner and had a look at the ice around us. As the dinner was finished the music was continuing and we were dancing. Before the evening was over, we had a quick sighting of a polar bear before some of us were singing karaoke in the lounge and then go happily to bed.

Day 7: Kapp Waldburg (Edgeøya) and Kapp Lee (Barentsøya)

Kapp Waldburg (Edgeøya) and Kapp Lee (Barentsøya)
Date: 30.07.2023
Position: 78°13.2’N / 021°16.2’E
Wind: SSW 4
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +7

After the amazing BBQ yesterday evening we were awoken by Christoph at 07.45 to fair weather and good visibility east of Edgeøya. The ship cast anchor near Kapp Waldburg where we made our first landing in Eastern Svalbard.

We walked up to the mouth of a small canyon. The walls were covered with nesting with Kittiwakes and a family of foxes have made their den in the canyon. We were extremely lucky and were able to observe the cubs up close, sleeping on the tundra and running amongst the stones. A large part of the group walked up the steep slope to the top of the canyon to enjoy the view before a few brave souls did the polar plunge at the beach.

During the lunch we sailed through the Freemansundet between Edgeøya and Barentsøya to get to Kapp Lee, a well-known walrus haul-out site. In order not to disturb the walrus we divided into 3 groups, alternating between walking on the tundra, and observing the group of roughly 50 walruses resting on the beach and frolicking in the shallow water near the beach. We could hear them breathing, blowing, and even whistling. There were reindeer nearby and we observed Arctic terns, snow buntings and eider ducks on the water.

Kapp Lee has a long history as a hunting ground and a site for scientific exploration. There are remains of a hunting station build by Russian hunters (Pomors) in the 17th century and hundreds of walrus and reindeer bones scattered on the ground. In Svalbard all items from 1945 or before are automatically cultural heritage and thereby protected.

Before dinner we had our daily recap, today covering topics such as scurvy and how to avoid it, why we can find whalebones far in land, 10s of meters above the present sea level, and an outline of tomorrows program. As the sun didn’t set outside the windows we sailed south towards new adventures!

Day 8: Storfjorden

Date: 31.07.2023
Position: 77°31.1’N / 019°16.2’E
Wind: SW 2
Weather: Clear sky
Air Temperature: +8

The early wake up call of our dearest expedition leader was made in the mist of fog all around the ship in front of Russebukta. We waited to let the sunshine pierce through. As this took some time, the landing was transformed in a Zodiac cruise in the Ekrolhama just south of the initial landing site with not an inch of wind.

Great new bird species for our trip were waiting there: pink footed geese resting in big groups before flying back south and one lonely long-tailed duck, also on the go. A walrus haul was sunbathing and resting on the beaches in between the intrusive rock horizontal layers. In the water some bioluminescent comb jellies were swimming in the water!

After a hot chocolate back on board we started crossing the Storfjorden strait to the Spitsbergen Island during lunch time in direction of Boltodden. This site is special in several aspects: the amazing landscapes, the three huts, the geology, and the pond. This is in this last one that 2 families of red throated divers were staying with at least a chick. Those birds are not the most common Arctic breeding birds.

This site is an amazing one to observe a really special feature: dino tracks! Indeed, 122 million years ago, dinosaurs called iguanodons of up to 10 meters and 3 tons were walking on beaches when Svalbard was located way further south. Now, those remaining prints remain.

In the late afternoon, the recap was about the dinosaur’s history in Boltodden, the history of the Arc of meridian and the briefing for the next day. After diner we had the chance to have a quiz evening organized by Christiaan with a panoramic lounge full of guests to answer the questions.

Day 9: Treskellen / Burgerbukta

Treskellen / Burgerbukta
Date: 01.08.2023
Position: 76°59.8’N / 016°11.4’E
Wind: Still
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +6

We woke up for one final day of expeditions. Knowing this was the second to last breakfast we would have onboard, we savoured the food and maybe even had an extra slice of bacon. For the last time, we put on all our warm and waterproof layers and headed out for our final explorations of this expedition.

The first outing today was supposed to be a landing at Gashamna, an old whaling site, however the weather conditions were not in our favour. Due to the fog, we were unable to make a safe landing at the side and therefore opted for Plan B, a landing at Treskellen. There, some of us marched up on the highest hill for a good view of a glacier while others took it slower and examined fossils on the limestone close to the sea level.

The second outing of the day was a Zodiac cruise in Burgerbukta. High mountains on both sides of a deep fjord led us to a tall glacier front. On the way we saw among other things a hanging glacier, i.e. a glacier on top of the mountain, some large icebergs and some of us saw a seal.

Once back on board, it was time to return the muck boots that have served us so well for the past nine days. We gathered in the Panorama Lounge for a Captain‘s farewell cocktail, and then enjoyed a final, delicious dinner onboard. Some of us spent the evening relaxing in the lounge one last time while others got on with packing.

Day 10: Port of Longyearbyen

Port of Longyearbyen
Date: 02.08.2023
Position: 78°14.6’N / 015°32.6’E
Wind: N 5
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +9

Early in the morning, we arrived in Longyearbyen. 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 had been a comfortable and cozy home during this unforgettable journey. We had shared many unique moments, seen a range of rarely sighted wildlife, and made new friends. Loaded with fond memories, we now headed for home.

Our wildlife encounters on this trip were truly spectacular. For many of the guides, this trip yielded their best polar bear sightings. For the most part, the weather was fantastic, and we loved sharing the Arctic with our guests.

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


Tripcode: PLA09-23
Dates: 24 Jul - 2 Aug, 2023
Duration: 9 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Longyearbyen
Disembark: Longyearbyen

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