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Close encounters........

Day 13 & 14 Gnållodden & Brepollen

The programme for this morning was fairly unimaginative and included a landing to visit another kittiwake colony, where again you needed to cup your hands around your ears to listen to their distant calls, and yet one more hunter’s hut, yawn!!! Once on land, the routine of strictly having to follow a ‘flagged’ trail was an increasing annoyance. While some scaled the slopes towards the kittiwake colony, I attempted to photograph an Arctic skua at rest on the tundra.

Joined by two other, equally frustrated, photographers and with only a limited area to walk, we wandered back to the landing point to wait. Not long after, our boredom (can you image being bored in such a magical place, you cannot, so I guess it was frustration) turned to high excitement when one of my fellow photographers asked, “is that a seal or what” swimming towards the beach? No, it wasn’t a seal it was a Polar bear that had managed to penetrate the ‘steel cordon sanitaire’ unnoticed by the ‘watchful’ guides and safety zodiacs!

We alerted the nearest guide and it seemed to take forever for him to assimilate the information, by which time the bear was approximately 120 mts off the beach, and they can run at 25mph! Once the reality of our situation had sunk-in, he instructed everyone to move back off the beach, as if we needed telling! The radio communications broke silence into brisk chatter and the shutter noise from cameras was rapid. A flare was fired, and 3 more followed in an attempt to discourage our unwanted intruder. This bear was young and thin, but still clearly fast and powerful and seemed alarmingly determined. Once the emergency procedures had swung into place, the bear was persuaded that we were definitely not worthy of further investigation and was gently guided away by the safety zodiacs. Evacuation of the landing took about 30 minutes and once back on board ship, everyone had a good story to tell! If there is a moral to this, surely it must be that, ‘even in the dullest moments you can still discover the true colour of adrenaline’!

Under clear blue skies MV “Expedition” repositioned to Brepollen, while we enjoyed another outstanding lunch. The zodiacs were lowered, the bay sparkled in brilliant sunshine as we enjoyed a relaxing cruise along the glacier face amongst inquisitive black guillemots.

The warm weather caused the glacier to crack, like distant pistol shots, but we saw no calving’s on this occasion. With our zodiac motors turned off, our last day amidst the ice of Svalbard became almost reverent. We returned to the ship in time for afternoon tea and a lecture on the seabirds of Svalbard or was it Antarctica?

Following a delicious buffet dinner, most guests retired to the Polar Bar for a game of Arctic Bluff? The few keen wildlife enthusiasts on board braved the outer bow deck for a final opportunity to enjoy the wonderous nature of the Arctic and were not disappointed. As we headed north for our return to Isafjorden a group of humpback-whales were spotted breeching close to the ship; the closest had a calf along side. Then we had a few fin-whales caressing our starboard bow with white-beaked dolphins riding the bow wave, all seeming to welcome us home.

Melville, renowned author of ‘Moby Dick’ and a man with great intuitional understanding of whales, once wrote, “When a man is tired of seeing dolphins at play, he is tired of life”.

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