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Cruise Day 3 - bird cliff, fighting birds, 5 polar bears

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

According to the daily itinerary on the board in the mess, we are going out in Zodiacs at 09:30 (which may change, according to what is spotted by the guides and captain). As soon as we have finished breakfast, Svein wants us to go out sooner, so it is all a bit of a rush to get ready with insulation suits, life jackets, and camera gear.

Zodiac Excursion No. 3

The sea is like a mill pond this morning, making getting into the inflatable much easier. I employ my new trick with the ropes helping me descend the steps and into the zodiac, and it works well.

Guillemot colony at Alkefjellet


Freya, Origo's sister ship, saw a mama bear with two adult cubs earlier, but by the time we get there, they are gone. We decide not to hang around to wait for her to return, so we head for the Guillemot colony at Altefjellet instead.


The rocks are fascinating, with basalt pillars, some huge and looking like they are just about to tumble down 'any minute now' - in the next few hundred thousand years, I mean, which is 'any minute now' in the life of those rocks.





A number of waterfalls tumble down the side of the rugged cliffs, bouncing off shelves and splashing into the sea below.







The birds are perched on any available ledge on the cliff, they fly, either singularly, or in one long line, as if they are pulled along on a string by the leader.

Brünnich's Guillemot


The rare Black Guillemot

Black Backed Gull eating a Guillemot


Glaucous Guillemot

Common Guillemot


Glaucous Gull

There is also a serious fight between two guillemots, which goes on for several minutes until we have a winner!







On the way back to the Origo, we spot a bear sleeping on the rocks in the distance, quite high up the mountain. We stay for a short while, but Vide suggests that it would be better viewed from the ship, as it will be more eye level. Vide radios the ship, which comes to pick us up rather than us travelling back to them. David likens it to calling an Uber.



Here you can see the birds flying in a long thin line

Bear No. 3

He is right. The view from the top deck of the Origo gives a much better perspective than from the Zodiac. The captain gets as close as he can, which is not bad at all – the hillside on which the bear is sleeping drops steeply off into the ocean.


The bear shifts around a bit, looks up, then goes back to sleep. Changes position, yawns, then goes back to sleep. This goes on for a while and we are all happily clicking away until Ulf, the chef, announces that lunch is ready.


Zodiac Excursion No 4

I leave everything (camera gear, coat, and bag) on a table in the mess when I go in to have my lunch, which is just as well. Before everyone has had a chance to even finish their food, Sven rushes in to tell us to hurry up – there is a mama bear and two cubs on the move.

Bears No. 3, 4, 5, and 6 on Tommeløya



The mum and cubs are swimming, and playing in the water, initially in the middle of the fjord, then they move across to the edge of the mountain. First, mama climbs out of the water, then her babies. 'Be careful, there is another large bear around', Vide says, as if the mum and her offspring can hear and understand her. Being down on the water in a small inflatable craft has that effect on us all - we feel like we are very much part of nature, not just admiring it from afar.









Sure enough, our original family zigzags up the hillside, first to the right, then to the left. The two cubs manage to reach the top of the ridge, posing nicely for us, when the bear we saw on this island earlier appears. Depending on the bear's gender, this could spell disaster for the youngsters. It seems it must be a female, as the siblings see her off. Had this been a male, the outcome is more likely to be him chasing the cubs, and even possibly attacking and eating them. The whole experience is well beyond my wildest expectations for this trip. We are all totally in awe, including the guides.











Meanwhile mama bear is busy having a poo and rolling around in the snow.






Bear No 7 at Tommelsbreen

While we are busy getting super excited about the scene playing out in front of us, Vide gets a message from the Origo: they have seen a polar bear on the shore near the ship. Once all the bears we have been busy watching have gone over the ridge and we can no longer see them, we go off to check out the bear near Origo.



It's a lone male, who has feasted on a walrus carcass, and he now has indigestion. We follow him as he walks along the beach, obviously feeling uncomfortable. He poops, lays down, grimaces, and walks back to the area with the food supply, but doesn't seem to be interested in eating. I am guessing he has eaten too much already.


The stripe you see across the side of the bear in these pictures is not some sort of fancy barber-work, nor is it a birth defect. It is merely a tide mark, with the bottom half of the animal still wet from a recent swim, with the top half having remained dry.







We always go out in two zodiacs with six passengers and two guides in each.




Time to call it a day. Apparently, these sort of quality sightings rarely happen, so we have been exceptionally lucky so far. As Vide says, the norm is to return from a cruise such as this having seen around ten bears, of which only two have been great sightings in terms of photography. We see FIVE in one day.

Once back on board the mothership, we head north for several hours, giving me the opportunity to wash my hair without any fear of being called out for a last-minute Zodiac ride. Going out with wet hair in this cold would not be a good idea.


We have a three-course meal tonight – I guess because it is Saturday night, it's a special treat.

The starter is lefse with tuna mayonnaise and a little salad, the main course is a beef patty which I knew back in Norway as medisterkaker, which is always served with fried onion, boiled potatoes, and lingonberries. For dessert, there are Ellen's homemade chocolate orange bombs. It is all very good.



On our way down to bed, we meet Mickel, the chief officer, carrying two bottles of wine. He tells us he has a tradition of having some red wine with his meal every Saturday night. Mickel is the only crew member from Finland (all the others are Swedish), and is such a sweet guy and a delight to chat with. He has one of the nicest smiles I have seen for a very long time, his whole face lights up when he grins, including his gorgeous eyes.

Heading north, we will be hitting the pack-ice some time after midnight, and Vide warns us that it will be like sleeping in a pinball machine each time we hit an ice flow. I fall asleep just after 21:00, fully expecting to be woken up several times overnight.

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


Posted by Grete Howard 10:56 Archived in Svalbard Tagged waterfalls rocks zodiac glacier bear svalbard gulls polar_bear basalt pinball guillemots isbjørn origo ms_origo spitzbergen high_arctic guillemot bjørn bird_cliff artctic arctic_wildlife photography_cruise wildlife_cruise arctic_wildlife_tours alkefjellet bird_fight tommeløya tommelbreen polar_bears_swimming mama_bear

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Wow!! So epic! Thank you so much! Maybe a pic of Mikel is in order? I'm so inspired!

by Kelly

Thank you very much for your comment, Kelly. There will be a picture of Mikel in a later blog entry - in his swimming shorts, no less! :)

by Grete Howard

Astonishing photography! I could actually feel the cold. You’re both so brave and an inspiration!

by Lis jeffery

Thank you so much, Lis ♥ It wasn't really as cold as it looked, the temperature never once dropped below zero.

by Grete Howard

Fabulous polar bear shots, absolutely amazing!

by ToonSarah

Well, thank you, Sarah, you are most kind. ♥

by Grete Howard

this is amazing to say the least, what an experience!!

by Ils1976

Thank you for your comment, Ils, it really was an experience of a lifetime! ♥

by Grete Howard

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