Arctic Cruise Report: Northwest Svalbard

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic, July 3, 2010

We started the day with a Zodiac cruise in Fuglefjord in the northwestern tip of Svalbard. The boats cruised along the steep shores and cliffs, looking at the metamorphic rocks and plants like flowering moss campion. We motored around several small rock islands in the fjord. There were many eiders, guillemots, and gulls perching on the rocks. Several of us saw Atlantic puffins. Some of us spotted three reindeer keeping cool on a snow field high up on the mountain on this sunny day. After we headed back to the ship, the kids on board got a lesson in driving Zodiac boats, with a certificate to prove it.

Later in the morning, the ship repositioned to a bay with the almost unpronounceable name Fugleholmgattet. We all went on another Zodiac cruise in Sally Hemna Bay to see this gorgeous bay. It had a stunning glacier at the end of it, glistening in the bright sunlight. We stopped to admire a mother polar bear and her cub.

First, they walked up the hill, but they eventually laid down on a snow field. The mother rolled around in the snow every few minutes, obviously enjoying the feel of it. The cub followed along: walking when “mom” walked and laying down when mom did that. As if two bears weren’t enough, a third bear appeared high on the hill. This one was a large male bear looking for something in the rocks. As we rounded the bend, we saw a very unique sight: a complete skeleton of a huge whale. These remains of a fin whale included huge jaw bones under water and most of the backbone vertebrae above the water on the shore.

In the afternoon, the National Geographic Explorer cruised west out into the Arctic Ocean. We had a fascinating lecture by naturalist Steve McLean on the early Arctic explorations and another talk on the search for Moby Dick by our guest luminary Tim Severin. After our farewell cocktail party and dinner, we encountered a myriad of whales out at the edge of the continental shelf. We looked in awe at a huge fin whale, an equally large sei whale, a small minke whale, and a pod of friendly white-beaked dolphins. A huge blue whale came near the ship, where we could see its entire 90-foot length under the water when it surfaced with large blowspouts. Five cetacean species in one evening….it was a marine mammal version of Fourth of July fireworks!

What a way to end such an incredible week.


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