BLUE WHALES & POLAR BEARS SPOTTED - POLAR PIONEER UPDATE FROM THE ARCTIC

Where do I start? “WOW WOW WOW” We were woken too early this morning by

Henrik’s voice at about 5:45am informing us that a polar bear was on an ice

floe and the ship was manoeuvring slowly towards the bear. Everyone jumped

out of bed, quickly got dressed and was on the bow within seconds. The bear

was sitting on a pinnacle of ice and you could see his footprint trail

leading to his vantage point. Wow our first real live polar bear how

exciting! The bear sat for a while looking at us, he then got up stretched

and yarned then proceeded down the other side of his icy tower. He walked

out onto the ice in full view for all on board to see, then wiggled his

behind before plunging into the water, off he went. It was back to bed for

some but for those who stayed up we saw more, harp seals, minke whales and

the odd ringed seal all before breakfast…. During breakfast Captain Sasha

called Henrik to the bridge, he then called again “Henrik quickly come to

the bridge”! The Captain and the crew on the bridge where very excited, “big

whale! May be a fin whale”? No it was a blue whale the largest mammal ever

to have lived on earth, just in front of our vessel. Everyone was out on the

bow or fly bridge armed with cameras as the enormous mottled blue-gray body

rose with a high blow. He would come up to the surface taking several large

breaths then his long streamlined body flowed on to a tiny, stubby dorsal

fin followed by his extremely thick tail before showing his fluke on diving.

It was a great privilege to see this beautiful creature as they are very

rarely seen. We bid farewell to the blue whale and got back on course for

Woodfjorden.

Our destination in Woodfjorden was a place called Worsleyhamna on

Reinsdyrflya (Reindeer flats) and just to the south are a small group of low

lying island called Andøyane (Duck Islands). The kayakers prepared them

selves for a full days outing while we climbed into our trusty Zodiacs and

landed near a small hut. An old bear trap lay on one side of the hut; these

traps were heavily used around Svalbard up until the 1950s when hunting

bears this way became illegal. It was time to stretch the legs. We walked up

the hill behind the hut to get a better view. A band of cloud and sea framed

a mountainous landscape in the distance. The tundra was laden with

wildflowers, the purple saxifrage with its striking deep purple flowers and

tuffs of moss campion - the mountain avens were blooming too. We came across

an old navigational marker from Worsley’s Expedition it lay on a large rock

with the inscription still noticeable ‘Worsley Beacon”. A red-throated diver

was on a small tarn. Reindeer were grazing not to far away as we split up

into two groups. Henrik and Gary took one group on a brisk walk, while Sue,

Giles and Dave took a more leisurely stroll looking at the flowers and pop!

They did come across the hairy lousewort with its beautiful pinkish flower.

As our two groups came together we saw several reindeer not to far away,

they looked at us intensely but keeping their distance. The scenery was so

beautiful that we had to tear ourselves away to go back to the ship. The

water was silky smooth as we headed back to the ship for lunch.

Henrik’s plan after lunch was to visit Bockfjorden, we hadn’t gone far when

“guess what”, change of plan! A whitish creature walking on a distant island

called Måkeoyane was spotted. “Yep it’s polar bear No2”, Henrik asked the

Captain to move the ship in a little closer. It wasn’t long after we were in

the Zodiacs heading to take a closer look. The bear had moved into the

centre of the island and was out of sight. We cruised around the island

joining up with the kayakers when we spotted the bear lying on a snow patch.

There was a shallow spit between us and the bear, which the Zodiacs couldn’t

pass over, but it was easy for the kayakers. The Zodiacs had to go back

around and into the bay. He started walking off in a slow and easy manner,

steering up the nesting birds as he lumbered up onto the ridge and

disappeared from view. We headed off in different directions skirting the

island then finally spotting him on another patch of snow, this time he was

there to sleep! We stayed for while watching him every now and then his head

would rise to have a look around and then back down. A honking of a long

tailed duck grabbed our attention before we had to go back to Polar Pioneer.

What a day it’s been and what else could possibly happen?

On our way out of Woodfjorden on a large pan of pack ice with bearded seals

had our bear No3. The bear looked to be on a mission hunting seal. We all

watched with anticipation and excitement. It was like watching a David

Attenborough documentary but in real life. The polar bear is an amazingly

technical hunter, he stalks his prey in such a secretive and unexpecting

way. We could see him one minute and then with a blink of an eye he was

gone! Then without warning he flung himself up out of the water at the seal

and every time the seal got away! It is said that bear’s hunting on the ice

for seals will have at least ten attempts before a successful kill. We

watched this bear attempt three times so he only has another seven before

his meal! Time for our evening meal but just before the bar filled with

energy and chatter of today’s incredible moments. And it wasn’t over yet!

We then journeyed northwards, crossed 80°North and visited Moffen Island, a

walrus sanctuary on a donut shaped island that we have to stay 300m from.

There was a large group of walrus on the beach with some in the water and

just up behind them lying down was “yes No4 bear”. What a day... “WOW, WOW,

WOW”, time for bed and a good nights sleep!!