August 10, 2014 – Måkeøyane and Monacobreen
Posted on August 12th, 2014
During the night, ‘Le Boreal’ rounded the northwestern-most point of Spitsbergen, and by breakfast was entering Liefdefjorden, which means “Love fjord” in Dutch. The initial plan was to explore the low-lying Andøyane Isands, known to be rich in bird-life and occasionally frequented by polar bears. Despite a number of sighting of seabirds, there were no signs of polar bears.
Suddenly, our luck changed with reports of two unidentified objects near the relatively close Måkeøyane islands.
The first group went out as fast as possible in the Zodiacs and managed to observe two polar bears swimming across the fjord towards the main island. When the second group arrived, the bears scrambled up onto the tundra and began grazing on grass and moss. Mats Forsberg, our polar bear specialist, informed us that the larger bear was a healthy female, around 10 years old, and the younger bear, a large and quite aggressive male cub. Mats shared that they would likely part company in the winter.
In between our Zodiac excursions to see the bears, we enjoyed our time back on board and our first enrichment lecture from our historian, David Burton. David shared “The Concise History of Svalbard,” reinforcing what we had discovered in the Svalbard Museum and providing a much greater understanding of the archipelago, from its discovery in 1596 to the present day.
In the afternoon, we moved further down Liefdefjorden and anchored a short distance from the calving front of the large tidewater glacier known as Monacobreen. The glacier is named after Prince Albert I of Monaco, a keen oceanographer who funded and lead a number of expeditions on Svalbard.
We promptly set off on Zodiac cruises through the ice and along the margin of the tidewater glacier. This was quite challenging as the glacier had clearly been very active lately; there was a great deal of brash ice in the fjord, making it hard work for our drivers and a little bumpy for the passengers.
The scenery stole our minds away, showing a variety of birdlife, which was feeding from the nutrient-rich waters that flow out from the glacier, and a number of fascinating glaciological and geomorphological features. These telling features have revealed how far the glacier has retreated since it was first properly mapped in 1906 and 1907.
Back on board and fresh from our rooms, we met the Expedition Team for our recap before dinner. David Burton spoke a little more about the attempts to reach the North Pole from Ny-Ålesund as well as the development of the town from coal mining to scientific research. Mats Forsberg also talked about the polar bears we saw in the morning.
Meanwhile, ‘Le Boreal’ was on her way toward Hinlopen strait pack ice. A number of bearded seals where spotted basing on the ice floes, with the light and scenery providing another fabulous photographic opportunity.