Today was a very special day; we crossed the 80 degrees North parallel shortly after breakfast and were only a bit more than six hundred nautical miles from the North Pole! By this point, sea ice completely surrounded National Geographic Resolution, and we were delighted to watch her navigate through it. Specifically designed to break ice, she is one of only three expeditions ships in the world in such a category; her sister ship, National Geographic Endurance, is also in this category of three. And break ice she did! Effortlessly, National Geographic Resolution moved through massive ice fields, cutting floes three or more feet thick. Her powerful engines did the job under the expert guidance of Captain Martin Graser, who really enjoyed the process and whose enthusiasm is contagious. We looked for wildlife in the meantime, and many eyes throughout the vessel were glued to binoculars or spotting scopes. Fulmars, black-legged kittiwakes, dovekies, thick-billed murres, and black guillemots flew around the ice and oftentimes followed the ship.

Sharp eyes spotted a dark speck on the ice, and everyone onboard watched it growing bigger and bigger as the ship slowly approached in calm waters. A bearded seal! The seal couldn’t care less about us and continued sunbathing. It only looked at us every once in a while, showing off exceptionally long whiskers that would make any Old West outlaw green with envy. We watched this largest of the true seals in Svalbard for a long time before continuing on our way to explore the vast ice fields ahead.

The day was so beautiful and the weather so perfect. Better conditions couldn’t be expected. We decided to explore the ice by kayak and Zodiac to get even more close and personal with this unique environment. What a wonderful way to end an exceptional day exploring the High Arctic!

Photo caption and photographer: Bearded seal sunbathing at 80 degrees North, off Svalbard. Photo by Carlos Navarro