Arctic Cruise Report: Northwest Svalbard

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic July 10, 2010

The 24-hours of daylight in Svalbard can lead to some unique experiences up in the Arctic. After midnight, National Geographic Explorer anchored in the Holmiobutka bay in the northwesternmost tip of Svalbard. The reason was so the guests could go on an optional midnight Zodiac tour. Our nine boats converged on a small bay with the precision of a Navy SEAL operation. First, we visited a huge whale skeleton that rests just under the water. Then, we observed several polar bears around the bay. There was a mother and her cub high above the skeleton on the snowfield. There was another bear sleeping, another walking, and another rolling around in the snow. We could photograph all of them, since there is plenty of light, even in the middle of the night.

After breakfast, we had “normal” daytime excursions on kayaks and Zodiacs on this misty day. The Zodiacs took guests to see the face of the Lillihookbreen glacier at the head of the Krossfjord. In addition to seeing some calving ice off the glacier, we saw bearded and ringed seals lying on the ice and swimming in the bay. There were plenty of seabirds such as kittiwakes, dovekies, guillemots, and skuas to keep us occupied between seal sightings. The kayakers paddled over and around the nearby icebergs, including a few large blue icebergs. This was a great morning spent in this fjord surrounded by walls of glacial ice and filled with hundreds of icebergs.

In the afternoon, the ship cruised west of Svalbard. There was a fascinating lecture by Naturalist Sean Powell about his research and photography around Svalbard. We had barbeque hot dogs and other snacks out on the aft deck during tea time. In late afternoon, we spotted and observed whales at the edge of the continental shelf. Here the nutrients are brought up to the surface of the ocean, resulting in rich algae, which feed krill populations, which in turn feed these giants of the sea. First, we saw a sei whale, which was over 75 feet long. Then, we watched two blue whales spouting and diving. These magnificent blue whales are the largest animals on earth, with lengths up to ninety feet.

We had a wonderful Captain’s farewell party, with a slideshow of photographs taken by the guests throughout the week. During the farewell party, everyone had a delicious dinner, including the kids at their own table with the family coordinators. Our final day ended on a relaxing note, after a hectic week of 28 bear sightings and countless other memories.

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