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Expedition Journal I Svalbard Photo Tour I 13th - 20th May 2023

Expedition Journal I Natural Wonders of Svalbard Photo Tour I 13th – 20th May 2023

Voyage

Natural Wonders of Svalbard Photo Tour

Date

13th May – 20th May 2023

Ship

MV Explorer

Expedition Team

Mette Eliseussen, John Rodsted, Virgil Reglioni & Kalena Martensen

13th May 2023

Welcome on board!

The journey begins at 4 p.m. at the port of Longyearbyen. It’s the first time we meet all the people we’ll spend the next 8 days in the Arctic. After John and Mette, the expedition leaders, introduce themselves, there’s a brief lecture on the rules and safety precautions of an expedition in Svalbard, accompanied by a glass of champagne and some snacks. Each of us is provided with our own expedition suit, and we are also educated on how to behave appropriately in the fragile wilderness of the Arctic. We venture out heading to Scansbukta, looking for wildlife. In the late evening, we sail out of the protected waters of Adventfjorden and Isfjorden, steadily heading northward. For some of us, this was perhaps the most challenging part of the entire expedition. While the rocking motion lulled a few to sleep, it kept others wide awake. Nonetheless, the first evening already gifted us with some breathtaking photographic moments. Individual beams of light break through the cloud cover on the horizon, casting their glow upon Svalbard’s snow-capped mountains. The swaying continues through the night, but we manage to cover quite a distance by the following morning.

landscape in Svalbard

14th May 2023

We anchor in Lilliehöökfjorden, right in front of the awe-inspiring Lilliehöök Glacier.

The unpredictable weather in Svalbard puts a slight twist on our plans. Although the fog is granting us a mere peek into the immense size and magnificence of the glacier, the surrounding landscape remains a mystery, waiting to be fully revealed. Despite the fog, everyone remains in high spirits as we embark on our first Zodiac Cruise to get closer to the glacier. Thanks to Virgil’s guidance, we’ve learned that bad weather conditions do not have to restrict our photography opportunities. Before approaching the glacier, Mette and John drove us towards a small bay where they spotted harbour seals. Along the way, we also encounter a few king eiders and guillemots. It’s the first time we truly feel the cold of the Arctic. The icy wind slaps against our faces as we make our way towards the glacier front. The closer we get to the glacier with the Zodiac, the more cameras come out. The immense glacier front, adorned with mighty icebergs, leaves a lasting impression. It is very difficult to sense the glacier’s actual height as there is hardly any point of reference except our own Zodiacs. With the prospect of a warm lunch, we make our way back to the ship. Ed, our onboard chef, has once again outdone himself.

zodiac cruise Svalbard Lillihook Glacier

Strengthened by a three-course meal, we embark on a successful afternoon expedition as Mette and John announce a hike in the same fjord. We’re in luck as the cloud cover breaks, and the entire fjord is bathed in sunlight. Equipped with snowshoes, we set off towards a nearby hilltop that promises a magnificent view of the Lilliehöök Glacier. We disembark the Zodiacs where snowshoes and hiking gear are waiting for us. Once everyone is fully equipped, with John and Mette leading the way, we begin our hike. Always on the lookout for polar bears, we trek across snow-covered fields in untouched nature, with a view of the brightly illuminated Lilliehöök Fjord and the surrounding mountains. Along the way, we paused for every photo opportunity, and there were many. 

Upon reaching our destination, we enjoy a breathtaking view. Many of us set up our tripods (hoping it was worth lugging them along ) to capture the moment. It’s a picturesque sight, with our little boat, the Explorer, standing out in the fjord. Virgil is always there to provide tips and tricks, even outdoors. The first group photo is taken! Then it’s time for all of us to make our way back down, where we meet Mette and Kevin, who took a more leisurely approach to the hike. Here, at the Zodiac landing site, another perfect photo opportunity presents itself. The broken ice in the fjord forms beautiful lines, with the mountain serving as a stunning backdrop. We then return to the ship and sail back into Lillihöök to enjoy views under great conditions. Our dinner is served in front of the glacier at Tinayrebreen. We continue heading north.

group photo hike in Svalbard

15th May 2023

We continue heading north. While most of us are still asleep at our anchorage in Magdalenefjorden, our guides have already spotted walruses on the fast ice. What do we do when we spot walruses? We hop into the Zodiacs! Energized by breakfast, we are ready for the next adventure. Once again, we’re blessed with amazing weather.

First, we approach a bird cliff. Despite Svalbard still being covered in snow and ice, the first birds are searching for nesting spots on the cliffs. As John and Mette turn off the engines, we hear the screeching of hundreds of birds above us. Flocks of guillemots and little auks circle overhead. We approach the fast ice edge and are greeted by a bunch of common and king eiders and a clever little harbour seal playing tricks on us. Those of us quick enough to capture it on camera have good reflexes! After spending some time there and feeling satisfied with our camera shots, we move on to another bay. John and Mette had spotted walrus haulouts there. We see three walruses resting on the ice, with a glacier towering in the background. Unfortunately, walruses are quite lazy animals when they are above the water, and not much is happening. And then, Mette’s Zodiac suddenly spots a walrus in the water, near the next haulout on land. We observe the walrus group before returning to the boat, where we enjoy a delicious lunch prepared by Ed.

zodiac cruise in Svalbard

After lunch, Virgil gives his first photography lecture. He introduces us to his style of photography and answers our first questions. The rest of the day is spent on board as we explore beautiful landscapes and more glaciers. We are still heading north. In the afternoon, we reach the edge of the pack ice. In Smeerenburgfjorden, we find a sperm whale carcass trapped in the ice. We really hope it gets washed to the shores, as such a carcass can feed a polar bear for quite a long time. Yet, we are not allowed to interfere. Either the carcass will sink, be found, or drift away again. In a days time, we plan to return to the site to see what has happened. In the meantime, as we continue north we encounter some walruses on ice floes. In the evening, we experience a little snowfall, which provides us with a perfect backdrop. Sunlit glaciers, snowflakes, and ice in the foreground—a perfect foundation for an outstanding picture! For some, the day comes to an end, while for others, it’s time to head to the bridge, where we gather to search for polar bears amidst the pack ice. It’s a surreal thought that the pack ice reaches all the way to the North Pole. Here, we realise just how far north we truly are. For the night, we return to protected waters and anchor in Fuglefjord. So far, our search for polar bears has been unsuccessful, but tomorrow is a new day and a another chance. The plan is to sail along the pack ice again in the early morning. But for now, all of us need a good amount of sleep.

Smeerenburgfjorden Svalbard

16th May 2023

After a peaceful night, the MV Explorer sets off again, heading towards the pack ice at 5 o’clock in the morning. As always, the bridge is keeping a lookout for polar bears. We cruise along the pack ice for the second time, hoping to increase our chances of spotting one. Many of us spend the morning on the bridge, but unfortunately, we are not granted the sight of a polar bear. But this is how nature works, we are just visitors! Before lunch, Virgil teaches us on editing images in Lightroom. Now, we all have learnt how to use the tools. 

Our plan is to return to the whale carcass in Smeerenburgfjorden after lunch. With beautiful weather, we say our goodbyes to the pack ice and head south again. Along the way, we encounter numerous walruses on ice floes, providing several great photo opportunities. Just as we approach the spot where we discovered the carcass a day ago, Mette spots a walrus mother with her pup. We observe them on the ice floe and in the water. Unfortunately, we can no longer locate the carcass. We don’t know what happened to it, but we are all saddened that the polar bears were deprived of the opportunity for a good food source. Only if the carcass had washed ashore, bears would have been able to benefit from it. The journey continues, and once again, we pass by some walruses. Everyone has captured a great walrus photo by this point! Another fantastic photographic moment arises as we encounter the sailing ship Linden against a mighty glacier and the surrounding mountain landscape.

walrus on ice in Svalbard

We leave the northern waters of Svalbard behind and spend the late afternoon at sea, heading towards Kongsfjorden. Before dinner, Mette gives a valuable lecture discussing sea ice charts, the changes due to climate change, and their impact on the flora and fauna in Svalbard. We then discuss what we can do, particularly as tourists on a small ship expedition, to actively protect the fragile environment and ensure we leave no negative footprint behind. With many new insights and valuable ideas, we exchange our thoughts. 

Afterward, we have a delicious dinner. How fortunate we are to have Ed as our chef! We spend the night in Ossan Sars.

photo guide

17th May 2023

A new day of adventures awaits! We find ourselves in Kongsfjorden, home to Ny-Ålesund, the northernmost research station in the world. We are anchoring right in front of bird cliffs, and during breakfast, we can already spot a polar fox searching for food along the cliffs. John announces the first Zodiac tour of the day. We embark on the Zodiacs, cruising along the cliffs. Luckily, we spot another arctic fox directly on the beach. It’s in the midst of changing its fur colour from white, its winter coat, to black, its summer coat. We then continue along the shore and the fast ice. Suddenly, we come across polar bear tracks. If only we knew where the one responsible for these tracks was. The tracks look like a big male following a female and 1.5 yo cub. We head back to the boat, where Ed and Monina provide us with a fantastic lunch. Today’s theme: Italy

Since we’ve discovered polar bear tracks, we’re hoping to find one today. On the bridge, every second is dedicated to scanning the surroundings with binoculars, hoping to spot the king of the Arctic. Our attentiveness is interrupted by a mother bearded seal and her young pup on the ice.  For a brief moment, we observe and capture the scene from a distance.

arctic fox in svalbard

Afterwards, we set off to leave the fjord. From the NW side of Bloomstrand, John spots a yellow, cream-colored dot on the fast ice many miles away to the east. It’s exactly where we observed the seal and its pup just half an hour ago. It still isn‘t confirmed that it is a bear. Nevertheless, we’ll get closer again to determine if it truly is one. John was right, it is a polar bear! Everyone gathers either on the bridge or at the bow, using binoculars to observe the polar bear on the ice edge, whose silhouette becomes clearer as we approach. Now we can see that it has just killed a seal. Some of us may have even witnessed it pounding on the seal and standing on its hind legs. We get closer until we anchor at a spot, still keeping a distance. We become more and more certain that the seal it’s feasting on must be the bearded seal pup we saw an hour ago. We drop the zodiacs to get closer. The scene appears a little bit gruesome, with bloodstains on its white fur, around its mouth, and on the ice floes beside it. Yet, we are witnessing nature and real life in the Arctic up close. For most of us, this moment presents one of the best photographic opportunities of the entire trip. With the flexibility of the Zodiacs, we have two excellent backdrops: a sunlit mountain landscape against a blue sky, and from another perspective, a massive blue glacier. All the conditions were perfect, especially when the water was calm. The mother of the seal pup emerged in front of the polar bear. She seemed confused and mourning her loss.

As we board the ship, dinner is ready. Poor Ed, as it gets interrupted when we spot the polar bear resting on an iceberg again through our binoculars. With plenty of new memories, the journey continues. We leave the area and sail towards the next site of St. Jonsfjorden for the next day.

polar bear with seal Svalbard

18th May 2023

A new day begins in St. Jonsfjorden, a magnificent fjord. Several glaciers flow into the fjord, including Gaffelbreen and Konowbreen from the north, a combination of Osbornebreen, Devikbreen, Vintervegen, Paulbreen, and Bukkebreen in the middle, and Vegardbreen, Charlesbreen, and Bullbreen from the south. We enjoy the view of the fjord from the deck or the bridge, spotting numerous reindeer and harbour seals along the coast, but no sight of bears. After lunch, we head across to Prins Karls Forland, an island on the west coast of Spitsbergen situated between Isfjorden and Kongsfjorden. In the afternoon, a shore landing is planned at one of the walrus haulouts in Poolepynten. John and Mette provide us with a briefing on how to behave on the beach. After a mere five-minute walk, we arrive at the walrus haulout. For an hour and a half, we observe 35 walrus as they rest, move in and out of the water. Finally, tearing ourselves away from the fascinating sight, we return to the zodiacs and make our way back to the ship, looking forward to hot chocolate and cake. Afterwards, Virgil instructs us on the art of focus stacking and removing unwanted elements from photos using Photoshop. Or perhaps we should say, the art of photo manipulation? 😉 Meanwhile, the journey continues towards Isfjorden. We enjoy calm seas and sunshine for the evening.

guests watching walrus colony Svalbard

19th May 2023

Back in the fjord where the journey began, Isfjorden, we still want to explore the smaller fjords within. We awake in Yoldiabukta, with a view of Sveabreen and begin slowly sailing the northern coast looking for wildlife. The next fjords we venture into are Ekmanfjorden and Dicksonfjorden. The conditions are excellent, with the water so calm that the mountains reflect in it. In Billefjorden, we catch a glimpse of Pyramiden in the distance, a former abandoned Soviet mining community. We anchor in the bay of Nordenskiöldbreen and prepare for one last Zodiac cruise. There is hardly any wind, the water surface is tranquil, birds fill the air, and the sun shines brightly. As we approach the fast ice, Mette spots polar bear tracks. A mother bear and her cub have walked along the entire edge of the ice and a big male following. Mette and John estimate the tracks to be very fresh. Somewhere in the fjord… they must be hiding. The Zodiacs navigate through the ice floes at a slow pace, encountering flocks of birds and following the tracks. At one point, we turn off the engines and listen to the silence of the Arctic. There are few places in the world without noise pollution. It’s a unique feeling, reminding us of how small we are. We couldn’t have asked for a better final Zodiac cruise.

Zodiac cruise Svalbard

Wildlife Report

May 14, 2023

Lilliehöökfjorden
Common Eiders, King Eiders, Little Auks, Guillemots, Harbor Seals

May 15, 2023

Magdalenefjorden
Walrus on ice in front of glacier, many Little Auks, King Eiders, Common Eiders and much more

Smeerenburgfjorden
Floating dead Sperm Whale, no evidence of bears finding it yet, more Walrus on ice

May 16, 2023

Pack Ice Edge
Few Walrus

Smeerenburgfjorden
More Walrus on ice, whale had drifted out of the fjord

May 17, 2023

Kongsfjorden
Excellent and close Arctic Fox, Birds and some Reindeer, fresh Bear prints (looked like a big male following a female and 1.5 yo cub), Bearded Seal with pup, Polar Bear on the fast ice hunting and catching the Bearded Seal pup we encountered earlier

May 18, 2023

St. Jonsfjorden
Numerous Reindeer, Harbor Seals and Bearded Seals

Poolpynten
35 Walrus

May 19, 2023

Ekmanfjorden
A few Bears deep in the ice

Fast Ice Edge Nordenskjoldfjorden
Fresh Bears prints (a female with cub and a big male following)

Itinerary

Itinerary 23-SVA-02

May 13, 2023

Longyearbyen, Scansbukta, sailing north

May 14, 2023

Crossfjord, Lilliehöökbreen, Signehamna, Tinayrebreen

May 15, 2023

Magdalenefjorden, Smeerenburgfjorden, sea ice edge, Fuglefjord

May 16, 2023

Magdalenefjorden, Smeerenburgfjorden, sea ice edge, Fuglefjord

May 17, 2023

Ossan Sars, Bloomstrandhalvoya, sail towards St. Jonsfjorden

May 18, 2023

St. Jonsfjorden, Poolpynten, Yoldiabukta

May 19, 2023

Yoldiabukta, Ekmanfjorden, Nordenskjoldfjorden, sail towards Longyearbyen

May 20, 2023

Longyearbyen

Sea Ice Charts

Sea Ice Chart 12-05
Sea Ice Chart Svalbard

Thank you for exploring with us!

Group photo Svalbard

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