Monday, 25 June 2012

Svalbard, trip 1 - wow, Wow, WOW!!!! Blue whale fluking before breakfast

Wow!  What a cruise!  We are just back in Longyearbyen after the first of four Svalbard trips I am doing with Lindblad Expeditions.  It has been the best Svalbard trip I’ve ever done, and so great to be back here after the time I spent up here in 2008.  The National Geographic Explorer is an amazing ship, with an awesome crew and staff.  It's been a real privilege to work onboard, and I hope I get the opportunity to do more trips with them.  As well as a great Expedition Staff they also have Nat Geo photographers onboard and it was really cool getting to talk photos with Rich Reid and the other staff.

You know it is going to be a great trip when the first morning you are on the bridge by about 0600 and before breakfast you are watching two BLUE WHALES right in front of the ship.  We had spotted the odd minke earlier, but then the first blows appeared ahead and seeing several fin whales we were surprised to suddenly see a pale blue back, tiny dorsal and then fluke...the call went up!  We moved slowly towards them, and for more than an hour we had at least two blues feeding right by us, with absolutely stunning views including a lot of fluking.

And the trip just kept getting better.  That afternoon in Krossfjorden we cruised one of the glaciers and had the BIGGEST ice calving I have ever seen!  I just happened to be focussing on it when a few chunkcs started to fall and with the 400mm lens on the chunks filled the viewfinder.  It was huge, and I have seen some big ones in Alaska, but this was massive and the ensuing wave was a big one too.  Wow!

With not a lot of sea ice around, we were able to head up around the north of Spitsbergen and through the Hinlopen Strait.  The first Polar bear was whilst we were on land, and with it being a wee way off everyone was safely off land and unfortunately the bear was not able to be found from the ship.  That afternoon I got a glimpse of one from the zodiac as we watched walrus at a haulout.  The next few bears were rather distant, but with patience and some damn keen eyes on the bridge we ended up with the ship in the ice and a young male coming right in to investigate us.  Everyone was out on the bow or open decks as the bear stood right under the bow looking up at us, even standing on its hind legs a couple of times.  It was awesome!  The best polar bear encounter I have had from a ship, and one of those encounters you dream about!  After about 15 minutes the animal lost interest and just slowly walked off, a perfect interaction with the bear having not been upset or startled, and some very happy guests onboard.  Could it get any better?  Well a few days later at Cape Fanshawe with 100,000 breeding Brunnich’s guillemots was pretty stunning, and some amazing interactions with walrus also helped.  And as we cruise Monacobreen Glacier there was a pod of beluga whales, my first ever!  We didn’t get close views, but you often don’t, but we did get good looks at them surfacing, and up against the wall of the glacier was spectacular.  And then, just when everyone thought it was over, on the last afternoon as we headed back to Longyearbyen we got some really nice close interactions with fin whales feeding, and then another blue whale!  Again we had stunning views of it not very far away, surfacing and even fluking a couple of times.

So an absolutely fantastic first cruise.  The flowers are just starting to appear and the ice is really melting, so it will be interesting to see what we have over the next three trips.  The suggestion is that there is a severe melt going on in the Arctic this season, so I’m here to witness it.  Sad but true!  What will the next few weeks bring from a photography perspective?  Hopefully more of the same!

Some of the photos below are out of order, can't work it out in the limited time I have.  A full album can also be found on my Eco-Vista facebook page.

Blue whale fluking before breakfast

Cape Fanshawe

Brunnuch's guillemot flapping across the surface

Cliffs of Cape Fanshawe

Brunnich's guillemots on a small berg

Looking along the cliffs

Blue whale dorsal...uncropped!

More of the cliffs at Cape Fanshawe

Brunnich's guillemot egg

Brunnich's guillemots just off the cliffs

Against the light

Big ol' blue!

Guillemot in flight

A blur

Walrus surfacing in calm water

Guillemot flyby

Spot the King eiders amongt the common eiders

Black guillemot up close

Brunnich's guillemot up close

Red phalarope

Arctic tern just after diving

Kittiwakes feeding in front of Monacobreen


Walrus off Moffen

Bearded seal

Massive calving!


Glaucous gulls on a berg

Look behind you!

National Geographic Explorer

Polar bear foot prints