The morning broke slowly. A gentle breeze, almost imperceptible, lapped at the slow rolling swells meeting our ship from the northeast. National Geographic Endurance glided along the Barents Sea quietly as the sun played with a cloudy sky. As we steam south towards Norway, we leave behind the islands of Svalbard, but we are very much still in the Arctic. Though slightly warmer than the northerly latitudes in which we found ourselves in days prior, the air was crisp and frigid as we spotted our destination on the horizon. Before us was Bjørnøya, home to some of the most spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife one could wish for.

As noon approached, we sailed into the only harbor on Bear Island, located on the southeast corner. National Geographic Endurance, quite a large vessel, was dwarfed by the landscape. Cliffs erupted from the ocean, shooting hundreds of feet into the sky. These remote features offer a perfect home for the ocean’s birds. Bear Island hosts one of the North Atlantic’s largest seabird colonies. Thousands of kittiwakes, auks, and fulmars streamed by in seemingly limitless quantities. As we explored the island’s south end in our Zodiacs, the sea was littered with guillemots. Puffins gave a splash of color to the monochromatic seabirds we’ve grown accustomed to. A northern gannet crossed overhead, our first sighting of the gorgeous species on this voyage. Taking in this experience was almost too much. Beauty abounded, and we appreciated the abundance of the north in the towering cliffs littered with life.

Such an epic afternoon needs to be met with celebration. Upon returning to the ship, we took a deep dive into polar bears and learned details about these iconic animals. Our always entertaining evening recap was followed by a night of fine dining and a lively game of trivia, complete with prizes, of course.

The European continent is ahead tomorrow, and we look to the horizon with anticipation of another incredible day in the Arctic.