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Friday, 21 July 2023
“You are one with your skis and Nature. This is something that developes not only in the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning for a people than most of us perceive “– Fridtjof Nansen – Norwegian Polymath, Explorer, and a man whose name has always been synonymous with the Arctic

After the intense excitement of 5 Polar Bears last evening, Captain Richard very graciously has brought Le Boreal North into the Arctic Ocean North of Svalbard, to search the pack ice for more bears. Fog comes and goes slowing the ship considerably, along with the ice navigation. Very difficult to believe that we are at 81 degrees North, roughly 540 miles/864km from the North Pole. Plenty of seals about, always a good sign being the bears’ primary food source. Geologist Dr Jason Hicks gave an enlightening lecture on the birth of the Arctic Ocean by explaining the basics of geology in what he considered simple terms. For the listeners, it was not simple, but very edutaining. Jason has a quite inimitable style of lecturing, and loves his work. Many guests and Team members spent time on the outer decks searching for the elusive bears, and enjoying this magnificent environment. Polar Bear expert Morten Joergensen was up next, describing the adaptations of Polar Bears ensuring their survival in these extreme circumstances. These animals can take on 20% of their body weight in food in a single meal, cope admirably with feast or famine, and can increase their weight four-fold (quadruple) in a single season!

Dutch Marine Mammal lecturer Hella Martens presented the Pinnipeds/Seals of the Arctic in a beautifully illustrated lecture. Hella has worked in Canada, the Azores, New Zealand, Antarctica and the Arctic with a deep love of marine mammals. Thick fog predominated during the afternoon, unfortunately.
Walrus males can grow to 2000kg/4400lb. Considered a keystone species in the Arctic, and long hunted for their meat, fat, skin, ivory tusks and bone. The tusks are elongated canines, and can grow to 1 metre/3ft3inches in length. In days gone by, Walruses were killed, their rear flippers removed and eviscerated. With a very sharp knife the hide would then be cut into a very thin, extremely long continuous length. Somewhat like the skin of a lemon for a Martini. In this manner rope was made, stronger rope simply involved more strands interwoven. These unusual mammals feed largely on benthic bivalve molluscs, and rely on their blubber to keep them insulated. Tusk are used for fighting, self-defence, dominance and display. The strongest males with the largest tusks usually dominate the social groups and breeding rights.

Norwegian Botanist Nellie Nielsen explained the requirements to be a plant in the Arctic – not an easy environment for fauna or flora. It is wonderful seeing guests reading, playing cards, editing photographs and socialising in the public areas, hoping for a call on the PA system that a Polar Bear has been sighted…

Swede Anna-Lena Ekeblad has lived at Longyearbyen since 1995 (28 years), 16 of which she worked in the Arctic Museum. Her knowledge of the history of Svalbard is magnificent, and we all love her sharing stories of this history. More in store tomorrow regarding Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth, who first flew over the North Pole in a dirigible named Norge in 1925. Anna-Lena will also do a talk on Swede Andree’ who attempted to fly over the Pole in a balloon, which cost all 3 men their lives.
Sadly, after looking hard ALL day, notwithstanding the fog, no Polar Bears have been seen.

Proper Expedition day ~ Thursday, 20 July 2023
“At its best, travel should challenge our preconceptions and most cherished views, cause us to rethink our assumptions, shake us a bit, make us broader minded and more understanding” – Arthur Frommer, Founder of Frommer’s Travel Guides
Today was a true gem of an expedition day. The morning saw guests enjoying a Zodiac tour along the snout of the Etonbreen Glacier, in the Wahlenbergforden at almost 80 degrees North. This north-eastern quarter of Svalbard is considerably whiter with greater concentrations of ice than the remainder of Svalbard. Harald V Land Island holds the third largest icecap on Earth, behind Antarctica and Greenland, and less affected by the Gulfstream current. A&K guides explained the complexities of glaciers, ice formations, ice terminology and the dangers of moving around ice. No two pieces of ice are ever identical, and each has its own unique story. Two Reindeer and a calf added great interest. What a privilege it is to travel along a glacier face, between icebergs and brash ice, listening to the popping of the air bubbles, only 10 degrees (600 miles) south of the North Pole. Russ Manning drove our Zodiac with charming guests onboard. Russ has decades of experience in Polar regions, and his knowledge is encyclopedic.

The weather has been glorious (again), lunch was enjoyed in both restaurants before guests readied themselves for a Zodiac cruise at Alkefjellet (Auk/bird cliff in Norwegian). I shared the story of Franklin’s doomed expedition twice – once for each of the two Zodiac tours. Turns out that no lapel or cheek microphone is available on this ship. I made my displeasure abundantly clear. I asked the Officer in charge to try holding a stick, use an image advancer, all the while holding a 1960’s mic in one or other hand. I think the point was clear despite our language differences.
Thankfully the second group were agreeable to my finishing smartly, in order to have 5 minutes at the bird cliffs. Alkefjellet comprises high cliffs and towers which offer Guillemots safe nesting spaces, away from predators like Artic Foxes, Wolves and Polar Bears. Around 60 000 breeding pairs breed here, and the spectacle indeed was utterly mesmerising. Thousands of birds on the wing (rather like flying potatoes and Puffins, not great flyers), more in the water around the Zodiacs and scores on the cliff faces. Guano leaves the cliff face white. Gulleys, caves and waterfalls render this place a visual feast. One really did not know where to look.

I was sitting at dinner with 5 guests having a thoroughly good evening, when Expedition Leader JD Massyn announced not one, but FIVE Polar bears visible from the ship. Dinner was promptly abandoned, as guests flew onto the outer decks. Zodiacs were lowered with great excitement. As the Amundsen group watched from the ship, a mother with two large cubs moved off, over a rocky ridge and was lost to view. A mighty male bear, who had been feeding on a whale carcass, moved deliberately along the shoreline, forcing a smaller adult to move off hastily. By the time the Nansen group had boarded the Zodiacs and gotten closer to shore, the male had moved inland and was soon out of sight. The best views were probably enjoyed through binoculars from the decks of Le Boreal.
This is the sort of day guests and A&K dream about. Dreaming literally is not all that easy when the shine shines 24/7, and much light enters the cabin around the curtains. Many guests are using eye masks.

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