Arctic Cruise Report: Hornsund, Spitsbergen

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic, June 17, 2010

After rounding the southern tip of Spitsbergen Island last “night”, we entered the fjord network of Hornsund. Located on the southwestern side of the archipelago, this area is not only rich in wildlife, but stunningly beautiful in all directions. Tidewater glaciers descend in many directions, while large jagged peaks loom overhead. Seabirds surrounded us, and of course, the ice bear played a major role in our day.

In the morning, we explored the side fjords of Burgerbukta by sea. Whether setting off in a Zodiac, or paddling on your own in a kayak, the peace and tranquility of the area was perfect. Glassy seas made for amazing reflections and many wonderful photos. Murres and guillemots were abundant and even one very unusual leucistic Black Guillemot was observed.

After lunch, National Geographic Explorer ventured into one of the side arms of the fjord where fast ice lined much of the shore. Seals were abundant and soon three different polar bears were observed patrolling the fast ice. Two were approached fairly closely, but both were much more focused on the seal breathing holes than on us. It was really magical to see the ice bears hunting in their natural environment.

To finish the day we made a landing at Gnålodden. Here a massive bird cliff filled with nesting kittiwakes and murres brought sea nutrients to land, and this is certainly the lushest area around. From afar, the ground had the unusual haze of purple, which on closer inspection, was do to a carpet of flowering Purple Saxifrage. Barnacle Geese were feeding, an arctic fox was running around below the cliffs, and the history of the old trapper hut displayed the incredible abundance at this site. However, the true show stopper was the bear that appeared. A vigilant safety boat spotted the bear well down the coast, but approaching towards us. All the groups returned to the landing and boarded Zodiacs, while the bear passed just under the cliffs, moving rapidly towards the fast ice. From the safety of the water, we watched the bear do its best attempt of skiing, as it slid down a huge snow bank, much to the delight of us onlookers.

The scenery, the seabirds, the ice, and of course the polar bears, another perfect day here in the Arctic!

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