Jun 14, 2016 - National Geographic Explorer
Travel in the modern world is shocking at times because of the ease going from one part to a completely different location and environment. Most of us arrived in Oslo and spent the day visiting this modern beautiful city. Then the following day we were transported northward and further northward to Svalbard, some of the highest latitude land in the Arctic. As the charter flight approached the landing field in Longyearbyen we could see a landscape quite different than Oslo or even our home territories. Jagged peaks, blue fjord waters, and remaining patches of snow and icy glaciers produced our first views of what promises to be the landscape we will come to know during the expedition.
Most of us went directly to bed after dinner. Long travel days and airports are tiring but now we can settle in to the comfortable life on board National Geographic Explorer. However our slumber was interrupted slightly earlier than anticipated. Whales had been spotted off the western coast of Spitsbergen in an area where relatively shallow continental shelf waters drop to much deeper oceanic waters. These areas are often biologically productive and therefore whales come to feed during the Arctic summer. What a way to wake up! Both the largest and second largest mammal was seen. Blue whales have made a small return to Svalbard waters over the last 10 years. Fin whales were also seen as they fed in the rich waters. We were able to get good looks of both species since the weather conditions were ideal.
Our afternoon remained sunny and extremely pleasant. So after lunch we had options for different length hikes along the shore of Fordtende Julibuhkta, a short fjord offshoot of Krossfjord. Long, medium, and short hikes explored the shoreline and the base of the steep slope above. Numerous seabirds that nested high on the cliffs provided fertilizer for numerous Arctic plants that were blooming. The walks were not only good for some exercise but also the scenery surrounding us was awesome in the bright calm weather.
In the evening the Captain introduced the ship’s compliment of officers before dinner. Then as a grand finale to the first full day of the voyage the ship cruised off the wide face of Lillihookbreen. A few calvings of ice also gave a crescendo to the sights and sounds of Svalbard.