August 12, 2014 – Arctic ice edge and Raudfjorden
Posted on August 15th, 2014
During the early hours of the morning, ‘Le Boreal’ negotiated relatively heavy pack-ice, which was coming down from the central Arctic Ocean and heading west along the north coast of Spitsbergen. For those of us who were watching, the views of the ice-studded water couldn’t get more fascinating, until a blue whale and her calf also joined the scene.
By the time we were all awake for our breakfasts, the fog had rolled in and visibility had been significantly reduced. As with the nature of polar expeditions, our plan was adapted to suit the conditions. Instead of searching for wildlife along the sea-ice edge, we continued on to Raudfjorden, where our Expedition Team was hopeful for better odds, despite the poor visibility.
Raudfjorden (Red fjord) is named after the Devonian sandstones prevalent on the eastern coast of the fjord, which have a red appearance. The name has been used since whalers first arrived on the Svalbard archipelago in the early 17th century.
Two scout Zodiacs were launched and sent out to search the fjord for wildlife. Meanwhile, our resident marine biologist, Charley Wheatley, gave a talk about the marine life in the Arctic and the many concerns for the entire ecosystem. As this talk came to an end, it was reported that our scouts had persistently searched all morning along the whole fjord system, with the fantastic result of finding two polar bears!
All Zodiacs were immediately launched and the first group headed straight over to where they had been spotted. Much to our delight, it was a female with her cub and they had decided to come down to the coast. Eventually, the female bear had dived into the water and pulled out a carcass of a dolphin, before dragging it ashore and over a snow patch. Some of us were able to observe the two of them feeding, which gave many of us a great relief as the female appeared thin. The female was also wearing a collar; that meant that we might be able to find out more about her and her cub once the voyage was over. What an amazing close-encounter and view of these beautiful bears, all from the safety of our Zodiacs!
It was mid-afternoon before we were all back on board ‘Le Boreal’ again. Given the lack of visibility (which would preclude a landing), it was decided to commence our navigation across the Fram Strait and towards our next destination, the stunning and isolated coast of northeast Greenland.
During the evening recap, Charley Wheatley shared some insight on blue whales, putting our rare sighting of their flukes the night before into context. On of our naturalist guides, Brent Houston, spoke about the role the tourism industry has played in clearing up the trash that is washed up onto the archipelagos beaches; otherwise left behind, this trash has disastrous impacts on the wildlife we have all come to see. After dinner, the bar was busy with conversations and laughter, with many of us celebrating a fabulous sighting of polar bears in their natural habitat.