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Cruise Day 2 - guillemot colony, polar bears, ice shelf

View In the Realm of the Ice Bear - Svalbard 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I wake up at just after 04:00, having had 7½ hours of sleep, which is pretty darned good in my book! I only woke once in the night, feeling cold and getting under the quilt rather than sleeping on top of it as I had been. The team made the decision not to stop at the huge bird colony in the night as suggested, rather we'll come back this way in a few days' time. Apparently, it is 3 °C and 99% humidity out there today, and the sea is very much calmer this morning We learn that many people were seasick last night. I get up at around 05:00 and sit in the lower lounge typing up my journal.

Polar Bear No 1 & 2 at Wahlbergøya


Sabrine comes into the mess to inform us of two faraway bears. She is right, They really are far away, one on a hillside to the left, and the other on a glacier to the right. Between the two is an old whale carcass, which has obviously been buried by the snow over winter and is now exposed. We stop for a while to scout them out, then move on, being promised that we will return later.

That pale blob on the dark background is a polar bear, trust me.

Guillemot colony

Although this cliff does not have as many inhabitants as the one we didn't stop at yesterday, it is pretty impressive nonetheless. There are literally hundreds of guillemots glued to the side of the cliff. For this sighting, we all just photograph from the front of the ship. There is not a great deal of space there, as it is obviously pointed in shape, and everyone crowds into the pointy bit, so if you arrive late, you end up at the back or on the periphery.





David went down for a little snooze earlier, so Ellen once again goes down to wake him up for food. Lunch today is fish, tartare sauce and a pasta salad. Plus boiled potatoes, of course. Scandinavians have a massive thing about boiled potatoes! I miss out on the fish and just eat the potatoes and pasta with some peas and tartare sauce.

After lunch we return to the area where the two bears were earlier, and cast anchor; the plan is to wait it out and hope they get hungry again soon. Bears can easily spend up to 18 hours sleeping after a meal, and we don't know how long they have already been sleeping. David and I spend some time in the mess chatting with Jackie about travel experiences, and after a while, David goes back for another nap.

Bears 1 & 2, again

Not long after he leaves, the bear on the hill walks down to the glacier at water level, jumps in, and swims off. When David returns he notices that the bear has disappeared, and I tell him what we saw. He just smiles, not believing me until much later when I show him the photos.



This afternoon the Zodiacs are going out to get nearer the bears, but I decide it is too much swell for me to feel safe going in and out of the small inflatable, so I stay on board with Bertha and a 1.4 extender. I can see and photograph them, but the haze is causing too much lack of detail in my photos.

Big Bertha, my 600mm f/4 lens




The zodiac is nowhere near as close as it looks, the long lens creates a distorted perspective

After the others are back, Jeanette approaches me to say that Vide wants to try and take me out to see the bears this afternoon, and shortly afterwards, he comes to discuss how we can do it so that I don't panic and struggle when entering the zodiac. I suggest tying a rope to the top of the steps for me to hold on to as I climb down. He likes that idea and tells me to get ready.

Zodiac Excursion No. Two

David is asked if he wants to come along too, so the three of us, plus Mickel (the chief officer) and Marcus, the deckhand, go off. The rope, in which several knots have been tied, helps give me confidence, (it's a bit of a control thing) and instead of walking down the steps forward, I go backwards, with Vide and Mickel catching me at the bottom. It works really well, and I get in without too much trouble.

We head straight for the whale carcass. The big bear that was there earlier, has left, leaving way for the smaller rival to get some food. He is swimming across from our left, and as soon as he reaches the edge of his dining table, he walks out of the water, shakes himself, and strolls along to get a late lunch. Yet again he shakes off the water, and I am delighted to get some pictures that the others didn't. I feel so special and so well looked after, as Vide says, it is not often they do these VIP boat trips.








As this has been an 'extra' Zodiac excursion, we don't stay ,ore than about 15 minutes, but that is plenty for me to take lots of pictures before we head back to the Origo.

Power Nap

I can't wait to check out the images I got, so I get the laptop out and edit a handful. We then retire to the cabin for a snooze. With 24-hour daylight, sightings can happen at any time, so it is best to sleep when you can. I fall asleep on my back and wake up stiff and sore, struggling to get out of the lower bunk. There is not much head space, so I can't sit up in bed and I have to twist my back to get out.

Bråsvellbreen Glacier


Austfonna, which the glacier is part of, is the third largest ice shelf in the world (after Ross in Antarctica and Greenland) and it is mightily impressive. 25-30 metres high, the colour of the ice ranges from white, through grey to an icy blue. There are small veins of dirt, giving the appearance of cave drawings.



In the distance we see a waterfall tumbling down from the top of the shelf, and then another smaller one. These waterfalls are more of a concern as far as global warming goes than the bits of ice breaking off glaciers, as it means that the top layer of the ice field is melting, and at 7,800 km², just a few millimetres of surface water is a massive amount of ice loss. Every 75 metres or so along the side of the shelf is a cascade of water coming down.





Those individual waterfalls are quite something, but this ice cave with several waterfalls inside it completely blows my mind.


We hang around here for a while, with the intention of flying our drone from the top deck (the only place not obscured by masts). Each time we try to take off, it crashes to one side, with a message on the controller stating that the motor is blocked from working. Svein confirms that this is quite normal in Svalbard, and is probably because of the amount of metal on the ship. In fact, his own drone goes out of control at one stage.

Svein's drone

I stay on deck photographing the ice shelf and its waterfalls, the fulmars skimming the surface of the water, the pack ice in the distance, and the intricately formed icebergs floating past. Every now and again we hit one of them with a jolt and a crunch. The ship is ice-strengthened, and it s perfectly safe – mind you, that is what they said about the Titanic. Felicia, the ship's able seaman, joins me, and she shares my excitement as this is her first time in the Arctic as well.

Northern Fulmar



Glaucous Gull


The edge of the ice shelf - or is that the end of the world?

Eventually the cold (1 °C) gets to me, and when my face is so frozen that I can no longer speak, I reluctantly retire to our cabin at midnight.

Thank you to Arctic Wildlife Tours for making this dream a reality.


Posted by Grete Howard 19:27 Archived in Svalbard Tagged waterfalls zodiac glacier norway bear svalbard icebergs gulls arctic bunk_beds polar_bear carcass icefield fulmar drone guillemots origo ms_origo spitzbergen walrus_carcass high_arctic guillemot icebjørn bjørn vip_boat_trip vip_treatment power_nap bråsvellbreen austfonna glacier_waterfalls icefloes ice_floes wahlbergøya bird_cliff

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Wonderful shots from your VIP zodiac trip to see the polar bear! The waterfalls off the ice sheet are lovely too but a worrying sign at the same time.

by ToonSarah

Thank you, Sarah, I was so fortunate to get such VIP treatment. We were all very well looked after.

by Grete Howard

Yes it sounds like your crew were very considerate and caring :)

by ToonSarah

My gosh, such beautiful pictures and I love it that the crew goes out of their way to make you feel safe in the zodiac. That is true service!!

by Ils1976

Thanks so much, Ils ♥ The crew and guides were amazing.

by Grete Howard

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