(a mini-) TRIP REPORT: Svalbard, Norway, June/July 2016

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We boarded our home for the next 8 days, the Polaris 1, an aging but well maintained 112 foot boat, based in France. The 7 crew members were cordial and helpful (although sometimes language differences got in the way) and the food was deliciously gourmet (and rich). Other than the 2 couples in our party of 8 guests, everyone had their own room and private bathroom. Without a set schedule or itinerary, we were able to make immediate changes based on weather and reported sightings, something more difficult to do with the larger ships. When something of interest was spotted, either at sea or on land, two Zodiacs were launched, each with 6 guests and a guide. For most of our onshore sightings, our 2 Zodiacs were the only rafts there; it is hard to imagine 10 or more rafts from a larger ship jockeying for position! With larger ships, with several hundred and up to a thousand passengers, landings are not practical or maybe even possible. Our 2 experienced guides, Scott and Agnes, worked hard to find us a sampling of the animals and places all of us wanted to see and photograph.



Calm Sea

Believe it or not, the Arctic Ocean can be this calm



Svalbard Scenic

The scenics were more dramatic on a sunny day



Glacier


Glacier

Like the rest of the Arctic and Antarctic, the glaciers are receding, so tidewater glaciers emptying ice directly into the ocean are not as common



Foggy Peaks

Even though the sun never sets during the summer, the sun's lower angle each morning and night can produce dramatic effects



One of the first things we did was to head north to the ice pack to search for polar bears and seals on ice flows. The furthest north we got was about 600 miles from the North Pole, in loose pack ice, since the solid ice was still another days journey north.



Guillemots

These Guillemots found a resting place despite the fog



Loose Ice Pack

We cruised for almost 2 days in ice and fog like this, but spotted no polar bears, just seals



Bearded Seal

Bearded Seal



Seal Carcass

We did find this fresh seal carcass, and drifted the night with the ice field, hoping the bear would return--but it didn't



Our luck with Polar Bears improved once we returned towards land, with the sighting of a bear swimming far from land



Polar Bear

The bear was heading for a nearby island

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Polar Bear

We followed the bear until it reached the island, and promptly named her "Painted Bear". Researchers had recently fitted her with a collar and marked her backside with paint



Polar Bear

"Everybody in the Pool!" This male bear approached these resting walruses on a spit of land, causing them to retreat into the ocean. The bear didn't bother to approach another nearby group of adult walruses, but I expect this group felt vulnerable since it contained pups




Our next bear was "Plastic Bear", named because of his/her penchant for chewing on every piece of plastic junk it found on the beach (and the beaches of Svalbard are terribly littered). I'm guessing that this bear was in the separation process from his mother, since it was tolerated by a nearby adult female. As it walked the beach, he investigated everything plastic, and started chewing. Probably out of boredom...



Polar Bear

Plastic Bear chewing on a water bottle



Polar Bear

Don't worry--we weren't that close--this is a cropped image





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