Although not the perfect time of year to see the wildlife of the Arctic myself and Gina nethertheless made a trip on the M/V Plancius to access the ship and see what a trip into the Arctic was all about.
Day 1 - Longyearbyen
Our first day at Longyearbyen introduced us to this small town where tourism was now big business. We had a full day to check out the area. A few Snow Buntings were present, as well as Barnacle Geese, lots of Glaucous Gulls, a few Arctic Skuas and one nice Long-tailed Skua. Arctic Terns still had chicks and Black Guillemots and Common Eider were just off shore, while Purple Sandpipers showed well beside some roadside pools. The sound of Red-throated Divers echoed across the valleys as they called in flight to each other. To our delight and surprise we were scoping the opposite shoreline from town when we found a mother and young Polar Bear. Although distant we enjoyed watching them through the telescopes, walking around, laying down and even going into the sea for a swim. This was obviously a significant find as when we showed some local residents they immediately contacted the governor of town who announced it on the local radio. In the same area we could see Reindeer feeding on the hillside.
Distant Polar Bears taken with iPhone through scope (Gina)
Purple SandpiperArctic Tern
Day 2 - Longyearbyen
GPS position at 1600 hrs: 78°13.8 N / 015°36.1 E Wind: light air Sea: port Weather: partly cloudy Temperature: 7°C
Today we set sail at about 5pm but first had to go through a safety briefing and an introductory talk by expedition staff and crew. A few Black Guillemots and Atlantic Puffins were seen close to the boat plus many Kittiwakes and Fulmars including the dark “Blue Morph” birds.Black Guillemot
Day 3 - Raudfjord: Hamiltonbukta and Alicehamna
GPS position at 0800 hrs: 79°53.8 N / 010°44.6 E Wind: W 3 Sea: slight Weather: overcast Temperature: 2°C
Today was a nice clear fairly calm day which started off before breakfast with a sighting of a Blue Whale. We watched it as it surfaced several times before continuing out journey north. There were plenty of Puffins Black Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and a pair of Brunnich’s Guillemots to be seen. We then took to the zodiacs and checked out the coastal icebergs and the Hamilton Glacier. A Bearded Seal was inquisitive and came over to look at some of the boats, while an Arctic Fox showed well along the shoreline. We then had fabulous looks at a mother Walrus and its youngster.
Mother Walrus and pup
In the afternoon we made a landing at Buchannon Halveya where we took a short walk finding several small Arctic flowers, some Purple Sandpipers, Arctic Skuas, Arctic Terns and Common Eider. Back on board ship we all went outside between 10.45pm until midnight where we had fantastic views of a group of 15 Walrus playing in the sea. They even came over to inspect the ship.
Day 4 - Phippsøya and Sea Ice
GPS position at 0800 hrs: 80°40.2 N / 020°47.3 E Wind: various 2 Sea: calm Weather: partly cloudy Temperature: 3°C
Today we headed north toward the pack ice. We awoke at about 5.30am to a beautiful calm and sunny day. Before breakfast we saw a nice Pomarine Skua, several Arctic Skuas, at least 20 Atlantic Puffins, 4 Brunnich’s Guillemots (Thick-billed Murre) and a couple of Harp Seals. After breakfast we anchored up and took the zodiacs to shore. Two Polar Bears were dug in to hollows in the snow and were quite distant so views were not that good. Along the beach we slowly approached a large herd of Walrus just lazing around. We enjoyed great looks at these huge creatures packed together on the shoreline. On the water were hundreds of Kittiwakes and a few Glaucous Gulls.
Herd of Walrus
Back on board ship we headed further north until we encountered the pack ice. Here the captain slowly manoeuvred along the edge for several hours before entering this carpet of ice bergs which the ship smoothly pushed aside as we got deeper and deeper into the ice. Several Harp Seals were seen along with 5 Pomarine Skuas, 4 Little Auks and then our first immature Ivory Gull flew over our heads soon joined by another. Over the course of the rest of the day we saw over 60 adult and immature Ivory Gulls sometimes in groups of double figures.immature Ivory Gull
adult Ivory Gull
adult Ivory Gull
Day 5 - Expedition Day: Sea Ice-Pack
GPS position at 0800 hrs: 81°16.5 N / 020°06.4 E Wind: NNW 4 Sea: ice Weather: snow Temperature: -3°C
Today was spent entirely drifting through the pack ice. A fabulous experience and a little chilly! Our goal was to find Polar Bear but despite searching hundreds of miles of ice we did not find one, although Polar Bear tracks were seen on several snow covered plates of ice. More seals were seen including Harp and Ringed Seals, there were over 25 Ivory Gulls, 4 Little Auks, a couple of Black Guillemots, and several Pomarine Skuas.
Just being amongst the ice and watching the ship split some of the bergs in two and hearing them crack and move aside was a highlight of the tripRinged Seal
adult Pomarine Skua
immature Pomarine Skua
Day 6 - Karl XII Øya & Reliktbukta
GPS position at 0800 hrs: 80°39.5 N / 024°53.3 E Wind: SW 4 Sea: slight Weather: overcast Temperature: -1°C
Today we came out of the ice and headed for a small volcano shaped island called Karl X11 Øya. We took to the zodiacs and circumnavigated the island. A Polar Bear was again dug into a snowy hollow and barely visible, although if you were lucky you may have seen him lift his head and look around briefly. One of the zodiacs spotted some Walrus but they quickly disappeared. On the cliff face were hundreds of Kittiwakes and we noted a couple of Great Skuas hanging around. The zodiacs took us up close to look at some of the amazing blues and purples of the ice bergs and finally as all the zodiacs headed back to the ship our we made a brief landing on the island where few people have ever set foot before.immature Kittiwake
In the afternoon we sailed slightly westwards towards Duvefjorden. Taking the zodiacs to a quiet bay we walked the snow covered hills seeing several Arctic Fox tracks and both Arctic and Pomarine Skuas. A beautiful landscape we eventually head back to the zodiacs and back to our ship and a nice warm cup of hot chocolate.
Day 7 - Expedition Day: Sea Ice-pack
GPS position at 0800 hrs: 80°15.4 N / 012°12.8 E Wind: E 4 Sea: slight Weather: overcast Temperature: 3°C
Today we awoke at 06,45 to the announcement that there were Blue Whales ahead of us, and indeed within minutes of getting dressed and rushing up to the bridge we were soon watching three Blue Whales blowing, and make shallow dives. A superb start to an amazing day.Blue Whale
Blue Whale showing blow
Shortly after breakfast we hit the ice-pack again and with scopes set up we scanned every inch of ice in search of Polar Bears in an area that the crew normally find one or two. We found several Harp Seals and enjoyed fabulous views of many Pomarine Skuas and Ivory Gulls.
A Pomarine Skua pursues a Kittiwake
A highlight today for Gina was going out on the zodiacs and landing on the ice flow where they had a rum and hot chocolate and some cake. If I had know that I would have gone as well. Back on the ship we enjoyed watching skuas chasing Ivory Gulls and Kittiwakes and the total count of Ivory Gulls over the last 3 days came to 200. Amazing as this is normally a rare bird. This evening we enjoyed a BBQ on deck.
Ivory Gulls and Kittiwakes
Day 8 - Alkhornet
Day 8 - Alkhornet
GPS position at 0800 hrs: 78°47.1 N / 010°12.3 E Wind: S 3 Sea: smooth Weather: clear Temperature: 4°C
Today we awoke to a beautiful sunny day with flat calm sea conditions. We were heading back towards Spitzbergen. The morning passed by watching the Fulmars skim low of the mirror-like water where if you were lucky you could get some amazing reflection shots.
Fulmars with reflections
In the afternoon we called in to Trygghamna where we went ashore. Here we encountered some Svalbard Reindeer, plus flocks of Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese, some very showy Arctic Skuas and even a Ptarmigan and an Arctic Fox. Back on the ship we enjoyed our farewell cocktail evening and recap of the trips highlights.
adult Arctic Skua
Barnacle GeeseThe Plancius our home for the last day!
Day 9 - Longyearbyen
GPS position at 0800 hrs: 78°13.9 N / 015°36.6 E
And we were in dock after a very successful voyage. The Polar Bears were disappointing but we knew we were a little late in the season for this fabulous marine mammal. Our trip next year in June will be very different, we will see thousands of Little Auks, plus other birds like Eiders and Snow Buntings and have far better chances of seeing Polar Bears. We would hope to see a few Ivory Gulls but nowhere near the spectacle of see 200 of these rare and much sought after gulls.The fabulous dove-like Ivory Gull - simply superb!
Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1,032 nautical miles 1,911 kilometres.
Furthest North Point: 81°26.1 N, 024°36.2 E
Look out for our next tour and come with us and see Polar Bears at the best time of year.