Arctic Cruise Report: Sjuøyane & North to the Polar Ice

From the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic July 23, 2010

Friday July 23rd brought the gift of post-midnight whales. Sleep was broken as guests gathered on the ship’s bow to spot four blue whales and unrecorded numbers of fin whales. Long, swishing exchanges of Arctic air freed the whales to dive again as fountains of icy spray pinpointed each whale’s location. In a background of midnight sun, Captain Skog held National Geographic Explorer steady as each and every one of us marveled at the largest oceanic creatures on earth.

Searching for breakfast, an eager male polar bear swam beside us at 0600 hours. By mid-morning guests filled Zodiacs to investigate a haul-out of walrus on Phippsøya, a member of the Sjuøyane island archipelago in northern Svalbard. As the ship sailed north, our morning bear was encountered once more posing on an ice island. Cameras snapped wildly.

Later we crept up so close to a polar bear eating a freshly caught seal. Silently we watched and listened to the snap of bones as the hungry marine mammal devoured his prey.

At 541 miles south of the North Pole, we stand in awe of the majesty of Svalbard.

And now, some writing by a few of this week’s travelers:

The Arctic (by Alexander MacMillan, Guest, age 17)
At first I expected a vastness comprised of repeating patterns of rock, ice and snow. However, I was surprised to discover a different sense of the world. Low to the ground and hidden between rocks were tiny explosions of color. With twenty-four hours of frantic photosynthesis, plants bloom despite the harsh climate of the Arctic. Rookeries displayed a marvel of high density vertical housing with birds breeding in their own Manhattan. Today we had walruses lounging on a desolate, rock-laden beach. Their lumbering bodies hauled out from the ocean obviously nourished from a hidden world of plenty. A polar bear was found swimming early this morning. By afternoon, we had found our second bear. Shrouded in mist, he ignored us and feasted on a meal of fresh seal. Tenacious, but wary, gulls attempted to join the bear in his meal. With land far away, the bear was at home on his drifting ice. While most see the Arctic as an icy wasteland, I now see all of the life hidden behind the expected.

Time to Treasure (Lynn Howard, Grosvenor Teacher Fellow)

How does one explain…
a sea odyssey at
the top of the world?

Filled with colors
of light, that reflect
my image in the bow of a boat.

A vessel that shreds
the frozen floes to
explore the plight of a fragile world.

A moment in time
to find the balance between
one mega species and another.

A race to evolve
before we conquer,
a world of gifts that
cannot give forever.

Will we shift our conscious thought
enough to find the existing treasure?

Not to exploit, but to share, for generations that need our care.

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