At Sea and in Krossfjord, Svalbard

May 31, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer

It was early morning—not sunrise because the sun never goes down here this time of year—and we were at sea on the northwestern side of Spitsbergen Island, at the edge of the continental shelf.  This is where the deep ocean meets the land offshore, and water is pushed up with nutrients from the bottom; where many creatures live and thrive, from the very small to the very large. We were searching for the very large—and we found them: fin whales, the second largest animal on earth, sometimes called the greyhound of the sea—they are very fast, about twice as fast as the ship. The fin whales, who were eating krill, have baleen to filter out small stuff from the water. They were joined white-beaked dolphins. Though not an uncommon sight to see them together, the mammals feed on completely different creatures. Maybe the dolphins feed on fish and squid that also eat krill…

In the afternoon, we were once again in a fjord that ends in a glacier. There are cliffs here with large colonies of kittiwakes, which are cute gulls with black wing tips. The kittiwakes must nest in places that cannot be reached by the relentless arctic foxes. And that is why we are here: for birds, arctic fox, plants fertilized by the birds, and reindeer that eat the plants. Today, on our Zodiac cruises, we got to see them all, as well as puffins, king eider ducks, and barnacle geese! One episode was particularly interesting. The foxes charged at the barnacle geese, in hopes that the geese would be caught off guard No such luck, as far as we saw. The geese either flew off or attacked back to drive the foxes away.

Lots of nature here. Among the birds, mammals, and plants, there are also glaciers and ice. While not living, I include glaciers and ice because they’re a part of nature as much as houses and roads are parts of humanity. There is something else special that appeared: A Zodiac with three people with funny hats. Vikings, they said, and they did not want anything from us. They offered hot chocolate and spirits if you like, perhaps as restitution for sins from the past. But wait, they looked just like our hotel manager, bartender and provision-master!  Oh, reincarnation can be ironic. The hot chocolate was good!

  • Send

About the Author

Dennis Cornejo


Dennis began scuba diving during the mid-1970s as part of a research project. At the time he was a research associate at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, studying the population of winter hibernating sea turtles.  What began as a scientific study soon became a conservation project that expanded to three species of sea turtles along the entire Pacific coast of Mexico.  This project received major funding from the World Wildlife Fund and was eventually taken over directly by that agency with Kim Clifton and Dennis Cornejo as co-principal investigators.

Get our newsletter

Join us for updates, insider reports & special offers.

Privacy Policy