Archive for the ‘Arctic’ Category

Svalbard, Norway – video slideshow, gallery and expedition summary

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Map of our Expedition to Svalbard, Norway

Gallery of the best pics from our Arctic Expedition.

Video slideshow with pics, videos and music…

Summary of all the Arctic posts…

Land of the Ice Bears

Arctic Day 1 – Hornsund, Svalbard

Arctic Day 2 – Storfjorden Region

Arctic Day 3 – Prins Karls Forland and St.Johns Fjord

Arctic Day 4 – Woodfjorden

Arctic Day 5 – Hinlopen Strait

Arctic Day 6 – Holmfjord and Continental shelf drop off (the final day)

Arctic Day 6 – Holmfjord and Continental shelf drop off (the final day)

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Arctic kayaking from the NatGeo Explorer

The NatGeo Explorer is equipped with inflatable kayaks which is always a highlight with the guests… ourselves included.  Kayaking in the Arctic in the shadow of the Holmiabukta glacier is what adventure travel is all about.  We travelled along the coast line looking for wildlife hoping to see a Polar Bear.  The crew scans the area for Polar Bears to make sure there are none around before letting the kayaks out because a Polar Bear could easily take out a kayaker in the water.

Kayaking in the arctic

Our Polar Bear hunt by kayak wasn’t successful but we did find out later that one was spotted by the crew in an area we had just been.  At first we were bummed because we wanted to get one last look at a Polar Bear but its probably for the best because Polar Bears can swim much faster than we can kayak.

Also played around again with some time lapse photography.  I put the camera up on our balcony as we went out for the day.  You can see the kayaks zipping in and out from the ship.  I just wish I could have caught a polar bear chasing a kayaking on video…

After our kayaking we got a chance to go for a quick polar plunge.  Miki and I did it in the Antarctic so we figured it best to round out by taking a swim near both poles.

Arctic swim

This was our last stop of the trip.  We now had to head all the way back to Longyearbyen to disembark the ship and fly back to Oslo.  But Svalbard had one more surprise in stock for us.  A sighting of the biggest animal on earth.  The BLUE WHALE.

Blue Whale

Blue Whales are rare to spot around here so it was an amazing sighting and we had two of them that spent a long time playing in front of our ship.  Some interesting blue whale facts.

  • Can eat 4-8 tons of krill per day
  • Up to 30 meters long
  • Tongue can weigh as much as an elephant
  • Babies can weigh up to 4 tons at birth
  • Babies gain 250 lbs per day
  • Penis can be 8 feet long

Blue Whale up close

It’s hard to comprehend the size of these animal in pictures but try to comprehend seeing an animal gracefully swimming along that is the size of a basketball court.  Check out a interactive comparison to other objects at National Geographic.

Blue Whale passing in front of the ship

These whales were very curious coming very close to our ship and in one very interesting pass, rolled over on its side to get a better look at us.  One of the Lindblad staff on the NatGeo Explorer has the nickname the “whale lady”.  She has spent her entire career studying whales.  She was on the ship wide intercom as this encounter was happening explaining what the whale was doing, giving us neat facts (see above), but when the whale rolled over on her side she was stumped.  She had never seen this behavior before.  You could hear the excitement in its voice as this was the first time she has seen this behaviour.  It’s always exciting when even the experts who study an animal every day of their life get excited about something they see.

Blue Whale rolling over

After this amazing encounter (a definite highlight of the trip) the whales said goodbye and we continued back to port.

Two bue whales at dusk

Lot’s of amazing animal encounters topped off by a visit from the earth’s biggest creature.  Not a bad way to end the trip at all…

Arctic Day 5 – Hinlopen Strait

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Scuba diving in the arctic, during the summer, in a snow storm.

Most people would think you are crazy to want to scuba dive in the arctic. Throw in a major snow storm and they will really think your really nuts to go diving.  This doesn’t stop Dennis and his crew on the NatGeo Explorer from getting in the water to get some underwater video to show us.  The only disappointing thing is they wouldn’t let me go with them :(

Instead, I was stuck on the deck taking pictures of the thousands of seabirds nesting on the sheer cliffs directly off the bow.

Taking pictures of the nesting seabirds on the cliffs of Alkefjellet

Alkefjellet cliffs from the deck of the NatGeo Explorer

As we were maneuvering away from the cliffs we disturbed the guillemots resting the water.  It was quite a sight to see hundreds of these birds all “running” across the water to get out of the way of our ship.

Guillemot running away

These are the same birds nesting on the side of the cliffs so they must be able to fly.  It’s curious why they choose to run across the water rather than fly away.

Guillemots running across the water

Jesus bird?

Our next step was Torelneset.  After going on several of the hikes on the rather desolate gravel and tundra of Svalbad, the scenery was getting rather monotonous.  I wasn’t real excited to go on another hike but we wanted to get off the ship and stretch our legs.  Plus, you never know what you spot while out on a hike.  Even though the wildlife is scarce out on the hikes there are still good pictures to be taken.  You just need to be a little more creative to get something worth showing.

Svalbard Tundra

Torelneset had a walrus haul out which we spent an unfortunately small amount of time at.  Lindblad does almost everything right but I was very disappointed in the amount of time (barely 15 minutes) we were allowed to spend taking photos of the walruses here.  Given we went on an almost 2 hour hike around the desolate tundra I would have thought they could have given more time for the walruses.  Oh well, you can’t win them all so you need to make the best of it and I think I was still able to get a few keepers.  The light was very flat and grey so some significant amount of photoshop was needed.

Walrus haul out

Tusks up

Walrus duel

In addition to not having much time with the walruses, we weren’t able to get very close.  The staff drew a line in the sand not to cross.  I suppose it was for our safety since getting impaled by once of those tusks would not be very fun.  Luckily my 500mm with doubler was able to bring them in fairly close.

Miki in front of walrus haul out

After our short walrus sighting the weather started to clear and we heading to one of my favorite places of the trip.  The Austfonna ice cap.  It’s the largest ice cap by area and second largest by volume in Europe.  The largest glacier by volume in Europe is the Vatnajökull Glacier in Iceland which we visited several weeks earlier.  Glaciers are extremely photogenic.  It’s hard to take a bad pictures of these amazing ice creations… especially when we had such fantastic light.

Austfonna Glacier from a distance

Ice cave in the Austfonna glacier

and one of my favorite shots of the entire trip…

Waterfall off the Austfonna glacier

Arctic Day 4 – Woodfjorden

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Walrus chunk

We had our first walrus sightings today!!  I haven’t ever seen a walrus before except in pictures.  They look ugly in pictures and they look even uglier in person.  However, I could sit for hours watching them flop all over the place while making all kinds of interesting noises.  Before we had our first walrus sighting we had another early wake up call for some fin whales off the bow.

Fin Whale with calf

After we had our fill of pictures of the fin whales we headed towards Woodfjorden.  Once again we were amazed at the polar bear spotting ability of the crew.  Several kilometers away they spotted a polar bear on land just before it headed into the water.

Polar Bear on land

Polar Bear testing the water

Polar Bear shaking the water off (while in the water??)

As the polar bear swam off so we continued on and found some more bears on the ice.  Can you spot the bear?  I had a 500mm lens with a doubler on which gave me over 1000mm of reach and still the polar bear was only a spec on the ice.  This was also taken after the captain had been slowly maneuvering towards the bear for a little over 30 minutes.  I guess I need to buy a bigger lens!!

Can you spot the polar bear?

Later in the day we had a chance for a zodiac ride.  We couldn’t land on the island because a polar bear was spotted on the land.  This did give us a good opportunity to get some polar bear pictures from the zodiac.  We weren’t able to get as close as I would have liked but we did get a few good looks at him.

Zodiac in front of Polar Bear

Polar Bear with flowers

One of my favorite things about Lindlbad Expeditions are the little things they do to make the expedition memorable.  My number one little thing they do is the hot choco zodiac that roams around on the cold arctic days to warm up the freezing travelers.

Hot Choco Zodiac

Our last stop of the day was Moffen island.  Walrus paradise.  It was also our furthest point north on the trip.  80 degrees north to be exact.

Group of swimming walruses

Walrus swimming

Walrus closeup

Isn’t he cute??


Arctic Day 3 – Prins Karls Forland and St.Johns Fjord

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Landing on Poolepynten

The beautiful weather of the past 2 days were gone.  We woke up to some dreary weather with intense winds but that wouldn’t deter us.  Rumor had it that today was the day we were going to see walruses so I was pretty excited.  It turned out today was not the day we would see them but we had fun none the less.

Expedition staff all "geared up"

We all got geared up for our landing on Poolepynten and little hike.  The expedition staff all carry rifles just in case we encounter a polar bear.  They take every precaution not encounter them on land but if you do it’s better to be prepared because letting a polar bear eat a tourist is bad for business.

With very little widlife around I focused on the big and the little.  Big landscapes.  Little flowers.

Poolepynten landscape

Svalbard Poppy

Anyone know what this is?

Purple Saxifrage

budding flower


Poolepynten landscape

We continued on to St. Johns fiord where we had another landing and found an old trappers hut.

Old trappers hut

Can you imagine spending an entire arctic winter inside one of these?

Inside a trappers hut

at least you have one heck of a view from the toilet.

Arctic toilet with a view

While we had very few wildlife sightings today it still was a good day and we learned a bit about how norwegian trappers live on Svalbard.

Arctic Day 2 – Storfjorden Region

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Another very, very early wake up call this morning… 5:30am early.  No worries though.  It was to announce a polar bear off the bow.

Sleeping polar bear

It’s amazing how the staff and crew can spot these creatures from so far away in what seems like an endless sea of pack ice.  They have binoculars and spotting scopes but even with those tools it takes years of experience to be able to pick out the slightly off white color from the rest of the white.  However, once they are spotted far off in the distance the captain maneuvers the ship closer so the rest of us can get a good look.

Scanning for polar bears in the pack ice

Polar Bear through the spotting scope

Polar Bear resting on the pack ice

We were lucky enough to see a polar bear with a kill which isn’t uncommon but not seen on every trip.

Polar Bear with a kill

Even the birds were happy… at least the dominant one was happy because he scared away the rest of his competition.

Birds eating Polar Bear kill

I spent most of my time hanging out taking pictures out on deck above the bridge or out on the bow.  However, I go on the bridge once and while to warm up and talk with the staff.  As I’ve mentioned before, the staff and crew on the NatGeo Explorer are some of the best I’ve travelled with.  One of the interesting things I learned from the staff is that when a Polar Bear sticks out it’s tongue it means that it’s stressed.  I thought it was just a regular yawn. Not the case though.  It seems like the presence of our ship was disturbing it and after a while the captain backed away to let the Polar Bear go about its business.

Polar bear sticking tongue out

We caught up with another Polar Bear later taking a little swim.

Polar Bear swimming

Did you know that polar bears can swim hundreds of miles without resting.  They can also jump 7 feet out of the water onto the ice.  We never saw this happen but that would be a sight to see.  A 1500 lb polar bear jumping 7 feet out of the water.  I guess we’ll have to go back to try and get that picture.

Today was a one polar bear encounter after another.  Amazing experience and a couple of good photographs too :)

Iceberg jacuzzi

Arctic Day 1 – Hornsund, Svalbard

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Morning humpback whales

Our first day out in the arctic started with a very early wake up call.  Humpback whales just in front of the ship the expedition leader said over the ship wide intercom.  Having laid out all my photo gear the night before in preparation of getting the call at any moment I was ready to jump on a moments notice.  The call came and I was the first (other than the crew) out on the bow of the ship with my camera in hand taking pictures of the magnificant humpback whales.

Humpback whale in the arctic

The excitement wasn’t nearly over that day.  Shortly after our first whale sighting we had our first polar bear far off in the distance.

Polar bear through a spotting scope

One of the ways to get good polar bear pictures if you don’t have a mega zoom lens is put a small point and shoot up to one of the many spotting scopes around the ship.  Miki was able to get some pretty nice shots using this technique.  It’s sure a lot cheaper and more convenient than buying a 500mm lens.  But it still doesn’t have the quality that a good slr/lens combo can have… or at least that is what I tell myself to justify all this gear :)

Polar Bear on pack ice

The reason the bears are out on the ice this time of year is because that is where there food is.  This seal was a couple hundred yards away from the resting polar bear.  The seal also seemed to be trying to take a nap but always had one eye trained on the bear… just in case.

Seal trying to rest on polar bear infested pack ice

After our whale and polar bear sightings we arrived at our destination for the morning, Gnålodden.  It’s a rocky landing with a vertical wall covered with what seems like thousands of chattering geese.  The geese weren’t the main attraction of this landing though.  An arctic fox shuttling it’s pups from one den to another right in front of us was the photographic highlight of the day.  This was a very rare sight and to see it up close was a treat.  We were confused what the fox was carrying at first.  Looking at the back of the LCD screen it looked like the fox was carrying a teddy bear.

Arctic fox carrying its pup

Arctic fox carrying its kill

In between photographing the amazing arctic fox sighting I took the time look around.  It’s important not to get tunnel vision on focus on only one subject.  The best shot could be behind you.

Land of the Ice Bears

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Polar Bear in Svalbard, Norway

One of the top animals on our list to photograph has been the “Ice Bear” or Polar Bear.  These elusive creatures are getting harder and harder to spot in the wild but we knew we could count on Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Explorer and their crew to find them for us.  We travelled on the National Geographic Explorer to Antarctica last year and had an amazing time.  The ship, crew, staff, Nat Geo photo instructors and Antarcitca itself was one of the most amazing places we’ve been to.  Many of the passengers on the ship with us in the Antarctic raved about the trip to the Arctic.  Since seeing Polar Bears was on our wish list we booked the trip immediately after returning home.

Polar Bear in field of arctic flowers

Lindblad calls the trip to the arctic the Land of the Ice Bears.  They market the trip as an 11 day tour of the Svalbard archipelago.  In actuality, you only have 5 days on the ship searching for the elusive Ice Bear.  All of the other days are travel days or embarking/disembarking from the ship.  The trip was still amazing even though it was shorter than we expected.  An extra 2 days at sea exploring the archipelago would have been perfect.  It would have allowed extra time to search for Polar Bears, Walruses, Whales and most importantly not feel rushed when trying to get that perfect shot.  Overall, the photography experience in Antarctica was far superior and I came away from that trip with much better pictures than this one.  Even though it was only a 5 day trip they packed as much into every moment as they could and I did end up with a few good photos.

Over the next week or so I’ll do a few posts that describes what we did and what we saw each day we were on the ship.  Similar to what I did for our expedition to Antarctica.

The photo instructors onboard the ship put together a video slideshow of the passengers best photos from the trip.  Miki and I submitted some of our favorites.  We tried to submit pictures that other people wouldn’t have posted so we tried to get a little creative and kept the wildlife pictures to a minimum since everyone else had lots of them.

Some of my favorites.

- Polar Bears above.

Arctic Landscape

The Ice of the Arctic

Waterfall flowing off the Austfonna ice cap. Largest ice cap by area in Europe.

Kayaking in the Arcitc. (Gopro camera attached to end of kayak paddle)

and here are a few of Miki’s favorites…