Janet & John Tangney have been married for almost 41 years and live in Oregon. John’s full time job is writing Computer Aided Design software, and Janet was previously a pre-school teacher and substitute teacher for high school special education class. While John is a photo enthusiast, Janet also enjoys the hobby. They primarily go to National Parks in the USA on their travels, and love the Northwest. John had previously gotten to go to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions, and hopes to be able to return to there with Janet in a couple of years. They have a website, www.pbase.com/jctangney where they post photos for all to view and enjoy.
Janet & John Tangney embarked on Quark’s 11 day Spitsbergen Explorer, Wildlife Capital of the Arctic. This Arctic paradise is perfect for first-time visitors. Below is Part 1 of the their exciting journey!
We arrived in Longyearbyen at 2pm and had a couple of hours to explore the town before boarding the Sea Spirit around 4pm. Longyearbyen (#1 on blue map), lies within Isfjorden, the second longest fjord in the archipelago (group of islands) of Svalbard. Spitsbergen is the largest of those islands and is the only permanently populated island in the archipelago. Isfjorden is roughly in the center of Spitsbergen, and a portion of it is within the boundaries of Nordre Isfjorden Land National Park. Before dinner we had a life boat drill wearing life jackets. Then came our first dinner in the dining room. We sailed from Longyearbyen sometime after midnight.
Just got our email set up. We’ve had our safety orientation on land-ings and should be doing our first zodiac landing this afternoon. We sailed south all night from Longyearbyen, now sailing east into Hornsund Fjord (#2 on map), the most southerly fjord in Svalbard. The plan is to zodiac into Burgerbukta Bay (#3 on map) where the 2 arms of the bay each end in glaciers, each about 2km wide. We’ll look for wildlife and see glaciers. Since a polar bear was seen at lunch swimming in Burgerbukta Bay, it was decided we would do a zodiac cruise instead of a landing. We saw that same bear a few times as he continued to paddle up into the bay. We saw another polar bear on land and a bearded seal in the water, plus Kittiwakes on an iceberg while on the cruise. Finally that first swimming polar bear climbed out of the water in front of a glacier, where he kept a wary eye on us.
We turned around and headed back to the ship, not wanting to harass the bear any longer. Some of the passengers expressed unhappiness that we did not get closer to the polar bear, like in Churchill Canada, where John went on the Tundra Buggies. In Churchill, the bears are gather in late fall waiting for the sea ice to start forming (which is earlier there than most anywhere else in the Arctic) so they can get out on it to hunt for seals from the sea ice. So the bears are closer together in Churchill and you can see them close up. This area is typical of how polar bears spend most of the months of their lives, on the sea ice, looking for seals swimming just below the ice. The Quark guides try to get us as close as possible to see bears, but from experience, they make a judgment on how close they can approach in a given situation so as to avoid disturbing the bear or changing its natural behavior. I am glad that they did not get so close that we would have disturbed the bear!
It’s sunny today and very cold as I write this from outside on the back deck on my iPad. I think it’s in the high 30s but that only an estimate and it’s quite windy. They announced earlier that it was 4 degrees and everything is in that foreign language, metric. During the night we round-ed the southern tip of Spitsbergen and are now headed north through Storfjorden (means great fjord). Storfjorden (#4 on map) separates the island of Spitsbergen on the west from Edgeoya and Barentsoya to the east. We will look for bands of sea ice and hopefully polar bears and seals on the ice. A polar bear was spotted on the ice lying down. It was at a good distance, but once he stood up and started walking, he was still very recognizable without binoculars or a telephoto lens. We then spotted a bearded seal sunning himself (herself?) on the sea ice.
The polar bear, still walking, walked “behind” the seal from our viewpoint., but he was still at some distance from the seal and neither seemed concerned about the other. We usually ate lunch on the deck. They served hamburgers or chicken burgers and a dessert. On sunny days, like today, it was just nice to be outside for lunch. We continued to watch the same polar bear walking across the sea ice. He slipped in the water and then climbed out and shook off the water. The setting was iconic with the bear on sea ice that is breaking up now that it is summer. In the afternoon, we sailed to Dolerittneset (#5 on map) on the northwest corner of the island of Edgeoya for a zodiac landing. It is named for the dark, dolerite (balsaltic) rock along the steep cliffs. The huts on the shore are remnants of the 18th century Russian and Norwegian whalers and hunters. Along part of the shore, walrus bones are scattered, a sad reminder of their slaughter over 3 centuries.
We did not do a landing because there was information there is a sick or injured polar bear hanging around that region. We saw a group of male walruses hauled out on the beach. Our group of 9 zodiac boats were all lined up about 50 feet from shore where they were sunning themselves. Zodiacs mostly travel together in pairs so as not to disturb wildlife, if possible. But this group of 6 males didn’t seem to care how many boats were passing beside them. One of them turned over to scratch himself with a flipper and that was about it for movement from the group. Another one appeared to use his long tusks as a prop for his head to rest on. His tusks were stuck straight down in the sand and his eyes were shut. We also saw reindeer, a few in the distance along the mountain sides. One reindeer was much closer and once he saw us, he seemed to follow the zodiacs as much as he could, posing and prancing quite nicely in perfect settings. No disrespect intended, but this reindeer looked like a clown, with those huge black eyes. Also photographed arctic terns.
I have finally mastered using my huge yellow parka. It’s heavy and cumbersome, but I seem on top of it now, actually zipping, snapping and velcrowing the various parts together before I go outside instead of freezing while trying to do these things once I am outside. John is at a polar photography discussion tonight and I’m off to bed. We will sail over night into the Freemansun-det (Freeman Strait) which separates the islands of Edgeoya and Barentsoya . In the afternoon, we sailed to Dolerittneset (#5 on map) on the northwest corner of the island of Edgeoya for a zodiac landing. It is named for the dark, dolerite (balsaltic) rock along the steep cliffs. The huts on the shore are remnants of the 18th century Russian and Norwegian whalers and hunters. Along part of the shore, walrus bones are scattered, a sad reminder of their slaughter over 3 centuries.
Yesterday we landed on the north-west corner of the island of Edgeoya. Today we are sailing in the Freemansundet (Freeman Strait) which separates Edgeoya and the island of Barentsoya. The strait is only 6 km wide, and can be blocked by ice late into summer. Barentsoya is the 4th largest island in Svalbard. We will first land at Sundneset (#6 on map), which means sound point, on the south-west corner of Barentsoya and hike through the “rich tundra”. The Arctic gets very little precipita-tion, so it is a desert. Wildflowers are blooming now and no plant is more an 2 or 3 inches tall and yet they can be hundreds of years old. We saw polar bear prints by the river and assorted antlers and skulls of reindeer and a few rein-deer higher up on the hillsides. We were among the first to make our way down to the zodiacs after seeing the bird colony to head back to the ship. For John, Kittiwakes are definitely are not in the category of large male mammals.
The wind had picked up after we landed, so now the guides were strug-gling just to hang onto the zodiac as the waves pounded the shore. While all landings are planned to be wet landings, this would be considered a soaking wet landing. Getting through the surf in the zodiac was interesting. Waves hit the zodiac from the side drenching everyone. Back to the ship for lunch as we sail a short distance to another landing on Barentsoya (#7 on map). There we will see a huge colony of nesting Kittiwakes. They looked like standard sea gulls to me. These birds spend the most of the year at sea, mostly around Europe, but fly here in the summer to make more Kittiwakes. The ship had moved in the meantime so the zodiacs could face the waves going forward instead of from the side. All in a day’s work for these guides. But I got some interesting photos of the crew’s struggle to keep the zodiac in place to get the passengers inside. It was a definite E-ticket ride today. After our zodiac left, the other zodiac drivers moved the site a short distance to anoth-er landing site which wasn’t quite so wild.
We will not do any zodiac trips today. We are sailing northeast of Barentsoya Island (#8 on map) around the sea ice and small icebergs, looking for polar bears, walrus, seals and sea birds. We will sail east toward as far as Kong Karls Land (King Charles Land) before turning around and heading back through the Freemansundet (Freeman Strait). Kong Karls Land (#9 on map) is an island group (of 5 islands) within the Svalbard Archipela-go. These islands, which have the largest concentration of polar bears in Svalbard, are part of the Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve. There is a ban on all traffic to these islands, including up to 500 meters away from shore and 500 meters above land, to protect sensitive polar bear denning areas. We had dinner two nights ago with two very interesting passengers. One of them is an executive producer of National Geographic TV. She’s British but currently lives in Washington DC. And the other is her husband who is a producer for BBC nature documentaries such as Frozen Planet. She expressed some interesting in staying in contact after looking at some of his photos. John is quite pleased with that development.
We had 2 excellent talks by the expedition team today. One was about glaciers and the other about grizzly bears in British Columbia. Speaking of photos they have a computer on board for the pas-sengers to put photos they have taken during the trip. Not many people had put photos on yet (John is excluded from that state-ment). To encourage people to add photos there will be a “Photo of the Day”. So for the 4 previous days, John’s photo of a rein-deer was picked as the “Photo of the Day” and posted on the monitor where the next day’s agenda is posted. Needless to say, he is quite happy. In all fairness, it was an accomplishment to get a non-blurry photo of the reindeer as we were in a zodiac at the time plus using a lens that did not have vibration reduction on it.
Check out Part 2 of Janet & John’s journey!