Far North, Svalbard

May 22, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer

Explorations in the far north today afforded us a morning of sleep and relaxation, opportunities to listen to inspiring presentations, and an afternoon landing on the northern coast of Vindbukta, Nordaustlandet Island, where we had opportunities to hike and take photography walks.

Today we saw many dreary eyes around the breakfast tables. The reason being that many dedicated guests kept the staff company whilst diligently scanning the horizon for wildlife the night before, as National Geographic Explorer made its way back south from our northernmost point of 82° 08.46’ N. The captain and officers were especially surprised, because we are so early in the season, and by this time heavy pack ice usually occupies this area.

An AM of southern sailing gave us the chance to catch up on any sleep. For those well-rested and enthusiastic there were a few interesting presentations in the lounge. Following our belated breakfast, our geologist oceanographer Jim Kelley described the early explorers and their pioneering tales across the arctic, whose travels gathered information on ocean currents.

Then Naturalist Steffano Pozzi presented on polar bear ecology and shares personal experiences of polar bear encounters on the island of Spitzbergen. 

After lunch we found a landing on the northern coast of Vindbukta, Nordaustlandet Island, where hikers chose between a long, medium, short or photo-focused walks with our naturalists. Meanwhile, the underwater team went for a dive in the unchartered waters near the anchorage. What they found was an ecosystem built around the 24-hour sunlight, which fuels photosynthetic phytoplankton, which in turn provides the foundation for secondary and tertiary consumers. 

Our recap revealed a surprise birthday for the hotel manager, Patrik- a shipwide secret that had Patrik blushing the color of swedish fish. The galley crew delivered a birthday cake and the bridge crew found a gift as well, spotting a polar bear walking on a large expanse of drift ice. As Captain Leif Skog inched closer, the bear had caught scent of two walrus upwind, and we experienced a dramatic encounter between the two large marine mammals. Bearing large tusks, these mammals were able to quickly pivot and turn, never allowing the bear to get an opening at their backside. So, like nine of ten predation attempts, it was unrewarding for the bear.

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About the Author

Paolo Marra-Biggs

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

Paolo grew up just five miles from the ocean and for as long as he can remember, he’s always spent his free time in and around the water. As a high school student, he volunteered during the summer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and he was an active Junior Lifeguard. 

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