Bjornsund, Norway, 5/21/2022, National Geographic Endurance
National Geographic Endurance
As we arrived near the small archipelago of Bjornsund (Bear Sound) during breakfast, plan A was to offer expedition landing craft cruising. Our expedition leader decided to take advantage of the calm conditions to include our first chance for kayaking. Some guests opted for the expedition landing craft cruise instead. The weather cooperated, so all had a good morning exploring the shoreline of the small village on the island. Oystercatchers, common eiders, and a variety of gulls will make a fine start for our voyage bird list.
After lunch, the photo team gathered to provide some good tips on expedition photography. Just as the lecture finished and we broke into small groups for one-on-one questions, a call on the PA system announced, “Killer whales on the starboard side!” We didn’t need to be told twice, and soon everyone was out on deck enjoying a show by a small pod of killer whales that often got quite close to the ship. We observed at least two young individuals, and a mature bull, with his tall dorsal fin, guarded the pod.
The entire scene was punctuated by dozens of hungry gulls eager to snatch up some of the herring that the killer whales were eating. What a surprise when a large white-tailed eagle joined in the action, too!
Michael Nolan was born in Bitburg, Germany to an Air Force family stationed there. His first experience of the ocean came at age 12, when he learned to snorkel in the Italian Mediterranean. At age 17 he moved to Tucson, Arizona and became a PADI SCUB...
Under the cover of low hanging clouds, we set out for our second day of adventure along the Norwegian coast. In the midst of a windmill park and only a short Zodiac ride from the ship, we were met by our local guides at the little dock on Smøla and on the small island of Brattværet. A bus ride along the shoreline took one group through the low, vegetated landscape to Veiholmen for a guided town walk. Born and raised locally, our guide shared his own story as well as the one of the little village as he took us through the narrow, charming streets of Veiholmen. Once a very active fishing town, most buildings in the village are now summer houses. We finished up the tour at a little fishing museum that featured, among other things, a hip-replacement as a fishing hook. We grabbed a coffee at the local grocery store, where we were met by a colorful selection of indoor plants and Norwegian chocolate. Meanwhile, on the island of Brattværet, local guides took us around the windblown terrain. We explored the sights and history of the small community, and we enjoyed the view from a little hill. We concluded our hike with a well-deserved, traditional morning tea – which, in Norwegian, translates to coffee and waffles. Back on board our beautiful ship, we enjoyed a delightful lunch followed by a presentation by Nick Cobbing. While sharing his story and blowing our minds with his incredible pictures, he let us in on the secret of how to become a National Geographic photographer. Following tea time, ornithologist Ciarán Cronin taught us everything about the grand migrations of species all over the planet – from the strenuous journey of the land turtles in the Galapagos to the humpback whales and Arctic terns that we hope to encounter on our voyage. We also learned how many birds are killed by outdoor cats and how swallows were once believed to turn into frogs in the winter. The sun peeked out and set just a bit later than yesterday. We continued our journey northward to the view of windmills amidst the fog.
On this final day of our voyage along the coasts of Norway and Svalbard, we spent the morning on an extended Zodiac cruise in Fjortende Julibukta (Fourteenth of July Bay). What a spectacular place to explore! Brünnich’s guillemots and black-legged kittiwakes nested on the narrowest ledges of steep cliff faces by the thousands, mostly tucked into the bay for shelter rather than on the exposed outer coast. Kittiwakes built nests of seaweed, grasses, and mud while this most northerly guillemot species crowded shoulder-to-shoulder on rock shelves barely visible without binoculars. A few Atlantic puffins were spotted in their crevice burrows, offering fleeting glimpses of their characteristic colorful beaks. All these seabirds leveraged the cliffs for protection from prowling Arctic foxes seeking an easy egg or chick meal. Several pinnipeds were hauled out on shallow rocks near shore, including a juvenile bearded seal. And the Fjortende Julibreen glacial landscape, freshly dusted with snow, encouraged consideration of both the power and nuance of water, from tiny air bubbles remaining trapped in ice to sculptural pieces of brash hosting kittiwakes to the loose debris and trimline illustrating how substantially the glacier has retreated in recent years. For this excursion, guests embarked from the marina deck, allowing them to walk through the Zodiac garage and see the talented deck team hard at work stowing boats. During final shipboard activities – including behind-the-scenes tours of the engine room and galley, photo collection for a culminating slideshow, last visits to the Global Gallery, and the dreaded packing – National Geographic Endurance cruised the tidewater face of Lilliehöökbreen Glacier. Ten major tributary glaciers feed this system, which reaches the ocean along an eleven-kilometer wide, semicircular front. Low, drifting clouds contrasted the blue hues of the ancient, compressed ice and jagged mountains – dramatic views out every window. Naturalist Kerstin Langenberger gave the last lecture of the trip, guiding us through the process of determining whether each polar bear we’ve seen in Svalbard was male or female. With clues from neck and body shape, hair differences, and other physical features, we identified a young male, an old adult male, a solitary adult female, and a female with two cubs born just this past winter. This presentation as well as National Geographic photographer Ken Garrett’s evening image showcase highlighted the voyage’s many wonderful moments. Overnight, we’ll cruise south to Longyearbyen, sailing along Svalbard’s snowy western shores with gentle seas and many northern fulmars to accompany this final leg of our expedition.
Today was the first full day of our expedition aboard National Geographic Resolution traveling from Southern Norway to the High Arctic in Svalbard, and what a day it was. We pulled into Faleidfjorden early in the morning, catching glimpses of high peaks close on either side and anchored offshore of Loen at the mouth of the fjord. Here we went ashore to travel up to Briksdal glacier, an arm of the largest glacier in mainland Europe. At first we were met with a dense, almost eerie fog, but soon the sun came through, giving us views of immense, sheer cliffs and pouring waterfalls on either side—both closer than expected and much higher. This was a stunning sight that was only magnified in impact by the slow reveal. After boarding the ship again, we traveled north to Ulsteinvik, a very special location for National Geographic Resolution . Ulsteinvik is the ship’s birthplace, the very location where she was built. We passed by here shortly after dinner as a special homecoming. What a way to start the trip!