Our second full day exploring the Svalbard archipelago began with National Geographic Endurance sailing north in the large body of water known as Storfjorden, bordered on the west by Spitzbergen and to the east by the island of Edgeoya. The plan for today was to search for the iconic symbol of the region–polar bears.
Good visibility is a desirable condition for increasing the chance to find polar bears, but the weather this morning included low clouds, rain, and fog. Undaunted, the naturalists and the bridge team doubled down their efforts. They peered into the grey, searching for that round blob of creamy yellow fur that could be a bear. At times, sections of pack ice slowed our progress, and the rain turned to snow. But this is an expedition, and you don’t get to choose your weather; you make do, and press on. Optimism and patience are valuable assets on days like this.
Just before lunch, the call came on the PA system: “We have a bear sighting!” Indeed, our first bear of the trip was ahead on some fast ice. Distant ice. One bear became two, a mother and cub. Alas, they were far away, but they were well viewed with the assistance of binoculars and spotting scopes.
Rather than disappoint, a sighting of bears in the distance increased our enthusiasm to find more! The ship moved on, and the low clouds persisted.
Late in the afternoon, we heard another announcement for wildlife. This time it was for beluga whales. A lot of beluga whales. The pod included many adults, which are white in color, and a few younger ones that are identified by their darker brown skin. At first, the whales were feeding. Soon, a small group engaged in some very frisky behavior with flukes and flippers splashing in tight circles in what appeared to be an event rarely witnessed–beluga mating. They shamelessly and repeatedly carried on right before our eyes (and cameras) within meters of the ship. After 45 minutes, we retreated to the warmth of the ship with cold hands and full memory cards.
Cocktail hour began at six, and the room was buzzing with the excitement of our beluga experience. Expedition leader Peter began to brief us about plans for tomorrow, but the wildlife of Svalbard had more in store for us today: another polar bear! This time, much closer to the ship. Needless to say, dinner was late.