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Hinlopen Stretet & Wahlenbergfjorden

Our morning began not terribly far from where we concluded yesterday—cruising the remnant fast and sea ice around Wilhelmøya searching for wildlife. Our persistence paid off by spotting three more polar bears roaming the expanse of fast ice in search of seals. Though quite distant the privilege of observing these magnificent animals at any range added a great deal to our appreciation of their roles here in the Arctic. Our intent for the remainder of the morning was to seek out even more remnant sea ice in Bjornsundet (Bear Sound) in hopes of encountering more wildlife. All along the edge of the sea ice hordes of Brünnich's Guillgemots, kittiwakes, and other seabirds foraged for small fishes and invertebrates. Harp and bearded seals as well as walrus lay about on the fast ice, resting and molting in the Arctic sun, and their nemesis the polar bear was present as well. In this environment bears have a difficult time hunting seals due to the flat nature of the shore fast ice, void of nearly any features for them to hide behind. Nevertheless they can still manage to occasionally capture prey through persistence and good luck. By the time the morning was concluded we had added eight more bears to our tally including one male bear walking the ice edge right in front of the ship as we lay parked in the ice. Lastly we spotted a female bear and its cub of the year strolling along the distant shore, a reminder that not only is the remnant ice of winter fading but the bears too are clinging to the remains of this habitat. All totaled we encountered and observed 23 polar bears over 36 hours, all of whom were located on a rather narrow strip of sea ice that will surely not remain for too long, leaving these bears little options to find suitable habitat. More important than the number of bears seen is the overall appreciation for the beauty and fragile ruggedness of this part of the Arctic, so removed but yet connected to all the world in many ways. Having left the sea ice behind for the time we pressed north and east towards Wahelnbergfjorden via  Hinlopen Strait, the passage lying between Eastern Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet, the second largest island in the archipelago. Read More>

Jun 10, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Sea Ice & Olgastretet

It is always nice to be back in the ice! After dinner last night we encountered the first sea ice, off the southern tip of Edgeøya, and we continued to explore the ice until midnight. It was mainly broken up first winter ice and many eyes were searching for elusive yellowish spots in the dirty ice. Much of the brownish coloration of the ice is caused by diatoms, which grow on the underside of the ice and the ice breakup and melting makes it look even dirtier. Our searching efforts were rewarded with a few walrus sightings on ice floes and finally we knew we were about to enter the home of the polar bear, better maybe called ‘ice bears,’ as we saw plenty of footprints on the ice. Soon to bed to catch a few hours sleep, while maybe dreaming about the white bears. Read More>

Jun 9, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Edgeøya, Svalbard

This second day of exploration was a day for wildlife lovers! Just before breakfast we dropped National Geographic Explorer’s anchor off Russe­bukta (”Russian Bay”), located at the southwestern corner of Edgeøya. At 5,073 square kilometers it is the third largest island in Svalbard. It is to a great extent covered by glaciers, but the northern and western areas are ice-free. The vegetation on this part of Edgeøya is more lush than you will find elsewhere in Eastern Svalbard. The whole island is truly pristine and is protected as a nature reserve. The outdoor adventure of the morning started with hikes of various lengths. Read More>

Jun 8, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Hornsund, Southwestern Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway

Late yesterday afternoon our direct charter flight from Oslo landed at the small but modern airport of Longyearbyen, Svalbard.  We were quickly wisked to the awaiting National Geographic Explorer.  As soon as all of the luggage was distributed and official paperwork taken care of, the crew dropped the lines from the dock and we started our expedition.  However soon after dinner the expedition leader, Lucho, announced a quite unusual sighting.  We soon were treated to the sight of a feeding blue whale. What a way to start off the voyage!! In the morning we could see on the port side of the ship in the distance the rugged peaks and snow covered landscape of western Spitsbergen Island. Read More>

Jun 7, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Bellsund, West Spitzbergen, Svalbard

The passengers woke to blue skies, sunshine and the most amazing vista – looking into Bellsund fjord along the west coast of Svalbard. The air was cool from the glaciers that skirted the coastline in this, one of the largest fjord systems of the archipelago. The options for the passengers were to either take one of the long, medium or short hikes; or alternatively, to take a Zodiac cruise along the coast. The landing went smoothly and the warm temperatures in the sunshine were welcomed by most. The scree slopes of the mountains were full of the warbling and screeching little auks or dovekies that use the nooks and crannies of the scree to nest and raise their chicks. All witnessed the noise and beautiful flight of the dovekie, particularly when the colony was flown over by the marauding glaucous gulls. The noise of the dovekies was interspersed with the cries of the Kittiwakes and the honking of both the Barnacle Goose and Pink-footed Goose, who also nest on the cliffs and cliff tops. The coastline here is also home to Svalbard reindeer and polar bears. Read More>

Jun 5, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Hornsund

Hornsund is the southernmost fjord in Svalbard. At almost 30 kilometers long, it contains eight glacier calving fronts above which the towering peaks of Spitsbergen’s mountains rise to meet the sky with sharp, jagged ridges. This early in the year snow still covers most of the ground right down to the water’s edge. We spent the first half of the morning searching for wildlife from the decks of National Geographic Explorer. Read More>

Jun 4, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Negribreen Glacier & Kvalågen

The sun may never set during our week in Svalbard, but it could quite easily be shrouded behind the low-lying cloud and fog so common around this island archipelago. Not today: This morning we drew our blackout blinds to witness a glistening seascape and mountainscape—the jagged peaks of Svalbard piercing into the blue skies above and the gentle seas of Storfjorden lapping the edges of the small icebergs we were sailing past. The diorama surrounding us was only to improve as our ship National Geographic Explorer sailed towards the face of Negribreen Glacier. Read More>

Jun 3, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Olgastretet, Svalbard

The early risers came up to the bridge as  National Geographic Explorer was cruising northwards along the east side of Edgeøya. The weather was calm and slightly overcast. We were in open water of the Olgastretet (“the Olga Strait”), searching for sea ice. A few flocks of Brünnich´s guillemots and single fulmars were seen now and then. But would there be sea ice ahead? Just before seven o´clock we encountered the first ice, and telescopes and dozens of binoculars were raised in search of white, furry things and other wildlife connected to ice. In the beginning there were only few sheets of ice of significant size and the other bits and pieces of ice were quite scattered. Read More>

Jun 2, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Edgeøya VIDEO

Excitement has been building aboard National Geographic Explorer since leaving the southernmost island of Svalbard archipelago Bjørnøya yesterday. Following in the wake of Willem Barentsz, who discovered Svalbard in June of 1596, our course was to take us to the island of Edgeøya, the third largest island in the archipelago. Scandinavians may have discovered these islands as early as the 12th century, but official credit goes to the Dutch Navigator. Arriving off the western side of the island at a large bay called Russebuhkta (Russian Bay), we stretched our legs on hikes of varying lengths, reveling in the feeling of the spongy tundra beneath our boots! Purple saxifrages were just beginning to show their beautiful violet flowers, ice was just beginning to retreat from the many ponds and lakes in the area, and the sun was trying valiantly to shine through the low layer of heavy clouds above us. Read More>

Jun 1, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

Bear Island, Svalbard, Norway

The anchor dropped to announce the arrival of National Geographic Explorer at Bear Island. After a smooth transit across the southern Barents Sea from the Norwegian coast we arrived in Svalbard. Bear Island is the southernmost island administered as part of the Svalbard archipelago by the Norwegian government. With the ship anchored in Stappen, a relatively sheltered inlet at the south end of the island, we prepared for the afternoon. Immediately after lunch we launched two groups of Zodiacs to explore the cliffs and surrounding seas. Read More>

May 31, 2016 National Geographic Explorer in Arctic

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