After many months of waiting and anticipation, we finally sailed up into the ice region and I got to see my first Polar bear through the binoculars. The lone male looked nervously at the ship and slowly moved away from us, but we all got our first bear photos.
We had arrived in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a day or two before that and met up in the hotel for breakfast together before boarding our ship and new home, the MS Origo. I have always wanted to go on an Arctic trip and spent many hours researching the various trips and packages that exist on the Internet (and there are many). I kept coming back to the “Kingdom of the Ice Bear” tour prepared and lead by Peter Cairns of Northshots, so decided to book.
Once you leave the safety of the Svalbard fjords you immediately notice the vastness of the Arctic. We had to sail up to the where the ice was at the 81 degree mark and this meant crossing a lot of open water. We were lucky to have had pretty calm seas for this trip and most of us didn’t suffer from any motion sickness which is never pleasant. Pretty soon we were blessed with a Blue whale sighting as this behemoth of a creature went about its business. I did take a few photos but it is really difficult to get any decent shots of this enormous mammal from the surface. It is just too big for the frame. A fantastic sighting none the less!
The plan was to spend 2-3 days sailing around in the pack ice looking for bears, seals and any birds that flew around the ship and we were lucky enough to see upwards of 22 bears whilst in the ice. If you would like to have a read about the special bear encounter we had with a very cooperative male bear that had just fed on a seal. Click here.
I generally don’t do a lot of landscape photography but couldn’t help myself on this trip as I was armed with my new Canon 16-35mm lens. This turned out to be the best lens for capturing the vastness of the Arctic and we were lucky to have a day or two with sunny periods to photograph in.
Mention has to be made of the massive glaciers we visited. These wonders are constantly calving off large blocks of ice with the newly formed icebergs drifting off to start a life of wandering the seas. The bird life at the glacial wall made for wonderful photography as Gulls, Guillemots and Skua continually played out the circle of life. The thunder like cracking sounds of the glacier as it slips into the sea had us in awe as blocks of falling ice, the size of houses sent small tsunami like waves towards the Zodiacs we were floating in.
Next we next encountered a large group of hunting humpback whale on our visit to a nearby Walrus colony. I have never photographed these whales before and had loads of fun with the tell tale bubble netting (a hunting technique) happening all around the ship. After many tail and blowhole photos as well as photographs of the hundreds of kittiwakes picking up the scraps, we finally resumed our course and headed on towards the Walrus.
The grandparents of the beach (Walrus) don’t really do much other than lie around, bickering amongst one another. The wonderful tusks that adorn their faces make for interesting portraits as they occasionally prop their heads up on them as they lounge around.
After that we passed some cliffs which the Kittiwake and Brunnichs Guillemot frequent and although the breeding season was all but done, there were still thousands of birds huddled on the side of the cliff face trying to not to atttract the attentions of the marauding glaucous gulls
After that, it was straight on to the Little Auk colony where we managed to get off the ship and clamber up the slippery slopes to spend some time amongst their nests between the rocks. Once you sat down, the little birds all returned to their roosts and I experienced quite a few close encounters with them
The final stop on the trip was an Arctic fox den and this was a stop we were all looking forward to. The encounter with the two adolescent grey cubs and the much whiter adult was very special indeed. They were very tolerant of the 15 approaching photographers and went about their business unperturbed, which meant we were able to get some really good behavioural photographs.
Having travelled to many wonderful destinations in the past to photograph wildlife, this landscape was special for its vastness and unique eco-system. As humans, we have to do more to preserve this habitat as once it disappears, it will take the all wonderful Artic creatures we photographed with it.