Monday 2 July 2012

No flukes...but OH MY GOD!

Well just back into Longyearbyen for another turnover of guests onboard the National Geographic Explorer with Lindblad Expeditions.  The first trip was great, and this second one was also fantastic, but in the final hours of yesterday it become one of those absolutely unforgettable experiences...

Due to the really rapid melt of the pack ice this season, we had a couple of stops along the Spitsbergen coast (west and north) and through the Hinlopen Strait before then spending much of two days in the pack to the north of Svalbard.  On the way north we managed to glimpse a blue whale again, but had great interactions with some very close fin whales.  We managed to get just north of 81 degrees and at times were in quite thich pack ice - a very cool experience.  We did see several really excellent bears around Hinlopen, with a mother and first year cub near a very large male, then a few bears on fast ice, but a wee way off, until we had another awesome encounter with a curious young bear that came right into the bow of the ship and checked us out.  Absolutely stunning opportunities with the camera and so got some more good stuff.  Straight after that encounter we watched a mother and cub swimming!  The little guy was only about six months old and was riding the female as she swam, and although not up close as we really kept our distance, we had amazing views of this behaviour.  As she hauled out on the shore the little guy was still riding her back and then finally slipped off into the snow when she was up from the shore.  Just amazing, and fun to watch them then move along the shore.

We spent a lot of time searching for bears on the pack ice, and found one bear that wasn't interested in us, plus another was seen swimming in the middle of the night.  We also encountered harp seals and damn it (!!!!!) a very brief sighting of narwhal, but I wasn't on the bridge and it was so fleeting that I missed them!!!!  Nevermind, maybe more???

We had a couple more stops up around the north including Phippsoya Is, one of the most northerly of the archipelago, and then back down past Monacobreen, etc.  Again we encountered another two big males and a female with a first year cub, and with these the last of our bears taking the tally to 15 bears (inc cubs).  A pretty nice tally with some great behaviour and interactions as well.

But then on our last afternoon as we headed back down to Longyearbyen we hit the absolute hotspot!  In almost flat calm, no wind conditions we had a massive blue whale.  With relatively close views of this animal and some accompanying white-beaked dolphins we were pretty happy.  I decided to go up to the top deck to see if I could get some different shots and was standing on the top deck with everyone around me when all of a sudden i could see a massive shape looming up right beside the bow!  I started yelling at the top of my voice and everyone suddenly screamed and started clicking.  It surfaced right beside the bow twice, but of course I had my 400mm lens on and so everything was full frame head shots.  You could absolutely see everything under the water, including the fins and tail, plus the massive open mouth and pleats!!!  Just incredible.  It then dived and so I ran down and changed to my 70-200mm and went back to the top deck, thinking there was no possible way it would happen again....and it did!  This time surfacing three times on both sides of the bow....unbelievable!  Again I was screaming at the top of my lungs that it was coming up again and people were just blown away.  Apparently the Capt was screaming down on the bridge as well so it would have been absolutely scrazy down there as well, just incredible.  Having seen them so well last week, this was just incredible...and I got it all on my GoPro that I was wearing.  I can't wait to download and look at the footage as it will undoubtedly be hilarious with me screaming and yelling and people running around everywhere.

Anyway, off again this afternoon on another adventure...can't wait.  Some photos below and will be posted on my Eco-Vista facebook page...


  1. Oh, Brent, another fantastic trip. All the names of places I didn't know before you did this trip on the Prince Albert 2 in 2008 seem so familiar now. Just loving the blog and of course the photos. Dot

  2. Awesome photos brent...... looking forward to seeing the edited gopro footage.