Krossfjorden, 6/8/2022, National Geographic Endurance
National Geographic Endurance
A day of ice and whales. Overcast skies were unable to diminish the primal beauty of our morning in Krossfjorden. Our first stop, pre-breakfast, was the marvellous ice cliffs of the Lilliehookbreen (Lilliehook Glacier). National Geographic Endurance cruised close (enough) to the ice face, providing a spectacular vantage point from which to view this dynamic ice. A little farther south and after a scrumptious breakfast, we were walking on or Zodiac-ing along the rugged coastline near another expansive river of ice–the 14th of July Glacier. (So named by Prince Albert of Monaco who visited the glacier on Bastille Day.)
The afternoon was a time for marine exploration: hunting for whales. By heading west into the open Atlantic Ocean, we encountered a number of whales where the continental shelf drops off sharply to greater depths. We saw fin whales, minke whales, and white-beaked dolphins, all of which were energetically feeding on dense schools of fish. As the afternoon drew to a close, the ship turned back towards the east and the archipelago that has enchanted us for the past week.
Peter is a New Zealand zoologist who has worked as a scientist and tour leader in Antarctica and the subantarctic islands since 1983. He is currently doing ecological restoration work on a group of small islands he has purchased in the Falklands arch...
The final day of an expedition is always filled with excitement and anticipation. After an amazing journey all around Svalbard, we were eager to see what we might be able to experience today to round out such a fantastic trip. With some wonderful weather to greet us into the calm waters of the large fjord of western Spitsbergen, Bellsund, we headed out after breakfast from National Geographic Endurance . Our last outing in Svalbard certainly did not disappoint! Not everyone can say they’ve walked along the terminal moraine of a tidewater glacier. On shore, we were treated to stunning views of the large glacier, Recherchebreen, and the surrounding expanse of the fjord. As an extra treat, we took the scenic route back to the ship by way of an impromptu Zodiac cruise, visiting a small haulout of walrus and exploring the glacial lagoon, which offered the chance for a closer view of the glacier face and an appreciation of the sculptures of ice it leaves behind. In between packing and editing photos, our last afternoon onboard included presentations from undersea specialist Rory and polar bear expert Kerstin. Following Captain Aaron Wood’s farewell cocktail party and another excellent dinner by the amazing dining team, our trip would not be complete without one last interruption by wildlife. This time we sighted fin whales out along the deep-water shelf. Then we watched the voyage slideshow put together by our photo instructor, Michael, and reminisced on an incredible trip around Svalbard.
As our expedition leader, Stefano Pozzi, had predicted, the 50 knot gusting winds gave us a rocking night’s sleep, but National Geographic Endurance being such an awesome ship, made it feel like we were being rocked soundly to sleep like babies. We were headed for a fjord on the west coast near a beautiful bird cliff, Gnålodden. Here, there was a sheltered bay where the beautiful looming mountains protected us so we managed a safe but wild landing. The adventurous guests and staff who made it to land saw arctic foxes, beautiful flowering saxifrages, a pair of arctic skua, and nesting glaucous gulls. The steep cliffs were dripping with lovely black-legged kittiwakes. There were more birds than land on the shore, which made for an incredible landing. Ice had drifted in along the shoreline, giving excellent close-up photography opportunities for guests brave enough to bring their cameras onto the rainy landing site. When we all returned, the crew had set up Baileys, Kahlua, and hot chocolate drinks to warm the arctic-blown guests and staff. After a well-deserved lunch of burgers, a pod of belugas appeared in Burgerbukta! There were two young calves and a suspected beluga with a deformity, which was amazing to see as it was not a young beluga but an adult. This beluga had a deformed spine, giving it odd bumps and ridges along its back. We hope the family pod continues to support this amazing beluga, surviving and thriving in the wild Arctic. After the pod moved off, our education programme kicked off with our naturalist Alice giving a presentation on Seabird Migration in Svalbard. She raved about arctic terns and all the reasons why birdlife is so abundant in the archipelago. Whilst she was presenting, the undersea team braved going out into the still stormy weather with an ROV to take some footage at 85 m depth, showing shrimps and stalked anemones at the silty fjord basin. Following Alice’s talk, we had another presentation by National Geographic photographer Erika Larson, who previewed her short film on how the Sami people live and work with reindeer. The video showed the Sami living amongst a harsh and never-ending arctic tundra with expansive scenery. It told the story of the respect for the reindeer, their community, and their drive to work and live in this phenomenal landscape that is their home.
Unlike yesterday, this morning, we did not wake up to the loud sounds of crushing ice, even though we did pass some sea ice during morning hours in Freemanssundet. We started off our day with a lovely lecture on glaciers from Ezra, one of our naturalists. Suddenly, we received an announcement from the expedition leader, Stefano, that a haul-out of almost 200 walruses had been spotted. Swiftly, all of the Zodiacs were lowered, and we enjoyed a delightful short Zodiac exploration around Kapp Lee. Opposed to yesterday’s exploration between ice floes, where we, with one exception, only saw females, we were only able to spot male walruses on land and in the surrounding water. Some of them were quite curious, and we were able to admire their large size and spectacular tusks. It is incredible that animals of that size sustain themselves by only eating small mussels and remain so incredibly elegant while swimming! After eating wonderful Swedish meatballs and taking an afternoon nap, we headed back out. It was time for our first longer hike in the Arctic wilderness! And what an afternoon it was! We landed on a beach that was pink with flowering purple saxifrages. Yet, howling wind reminded us that we are indeed still in the harsh Arctic. But the wind accompanied by occasional snow and rainfall did not disturb our exploration. Looking at the remains of old fox traps, one can’t help but wonder how people that landed here centuries ago must have felt when facing this barren landscape when they first arrived. In the surrounding ponds we saw lots of birds - red phalaropes, whose females are the showy and colourful ones, majestic-looking king eiders, and long-tailed ducks. In the distance, we spotted cute and curious Svalbard reindeers. They seemed to have decided to lie down to avoid this windy weather to the best of their abilities, and curling up on the ground made them look like fluffy piles of snow. During the rest of our hike, we enjoyed the vast openness of the Arctic tundra and the feeling of being just a small human amongst this majestic landscape. After a slightly bumpy Zodiac ride, we were back in the warmth and comfort of the ship. The evening ended with an interesting recap, a delicious dinner, and a well-deserved break, after which
the waves rocked us to sleep.