Svalbard Adventure: Whales and Polar Bears

7/28/2011 5:00:00 AM

Svalbard Adventure: Whales and Polar Bears

Another morning, another day in sunny paradise. Today's temp registers 51F. We get a late start, but it's a worthwhile morning with opportunities to photograph minke whales fishing in the surf. We were first alerted by several groups of marauding seagulls diving into the waters, obviously feeding. We never did see what they were catching but the birds were having a feast.

Minke whale with seagulls wheeling overhead

Between the flocks and sometimes beneath, the dorsal fin of a minke would breach the surface as the whale emerged from the depths for a gulp of air. We watched for well over an hour as our ship bobbed quietly amongst the excitement.

Later that day we motor across from Woodfjorden into Liefdefjordan where we find a polar bear on one of the many islands. The winds are high and the island too large to try and photograph him from the Zodiacs. We stay on our mother ship and the captain does his best to maneuver us into positions that give everyone a chance to take pictures. The opportunity doesn't last for more than 30-45 minutes but during that time the polar bear caused obvious chaos with the nesting terns. From one nest to the next the polar bear wandered, guided by his magnificent nose, snacking on the mottled brown camouflaged eggs of the itty-bitty arctic tern.

A polar bear patroling for food

We end the day in another calm anchorage in Liefdefjorden. After dinner we take the Zodiacs out for a short tour hoping to find bears, and it's this evening that brings us a glimpse of the highlight of our tour. There on a ridge, a hundred yards or so above the shoreline, is a resting mother polar bear and her two cubs. She looks as though she is settled in for the night. Not wanting to disturb them we quietly made our way back to the ship, all of us hoping desperately for a chance to get a better view when we return in the morning.

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