We awoke this morning to find the views not too clear due to a smattering of fog. The announcement was that this may make any expeditions in the zodiacs more difficult, but that the day would be reviewed as it progressed. Thus, after the mandatory orientation session regarding the use of zodiacs, and then visit to the mud room to be fitted with wellington boots, we attended a lecture by one of the ship’s crew on the wildlife of Svalbard. Mouthwatering no doubt, but after we then togged up on cold weather gear, we headed to the viewing decks, where the fog and drizzle started to clear quickly. We were informed that we were to go through the narrow fjord/channel that is on the way to Smeereburgodden, which although slightly obscured by the fog, would still be quite impressive. After only a short time on the top viewing deck, and with murmurings of possible walrus or seals in the water at the bow, a Polar Bear was spotted on the rocky shore. This was some distance away at first, but what we hadn’t realised at the time was that we were going to follow this large male for three hours as he slowly made his way along the edge of the water – never really close (just as close as the ship was able to go before being beached!), but sufficient to almost call him a friend.
Lunch interrupted this bearathon, and he could still be seen from the restaurant as we munched away. Once finished, we went back on deck to find a huge Walrus planted on a boulder off the shore, not far from the still sauntering bear. Even more, a Common Seal was also placed delicately on another rock in the next bay – the hope that the bear may have a go never emerged. We then went back to our bear watch, when he obliged our patience by entering the water and swimming for some distance, unnerving a few small families of Barnacle Geese on the way. The first three Little Auks of the trip flew past in front of the ship while watching.
It was now time to utilise the zodiacs for the first time, crossing the short distance between the ship and a promontory in the land. We were assured that the staff vessel had already cleared the area for no bears, and also set up a perimeter so that we happy tourists could venture forth and explore. However, they hadn’t counted on the second Polar Bear of the day, slipping in on the blind side by swimming in between the boat and our land based location. It was fortunately seen by one of the group, and summarily “encouraged” away from us to another exit point. With that small distraction out of the way, we picked out a couple of Reindeer in the distance, and a single Red-throated Diver on one of the small lagoons. Another two subsequently flew over our heads. The Skuas were represented by a trio of Arctic which landed not too far from us, and a pair of Great Skuas perusing their options from a rock just offshore. The last treat of the day (fauna related) was a couple of Walrus just a few metres away from the beach, looking as though they fancied beaching themselves but for our presence. Huge, slow and impressive. As we made our way back to the ship on the zodiac, an impressive copper sulphate blue ice berg was slowly floating in front of one of the glaciers – our driver resisted the temptation to take us closer due to her other awaiting passengers back on shore!