We woke a little later than usual aboard National Geographic Endurance this morning. After last night’s entertainment, bedtime was interrupted by blue whales crossing our passage. Five-meter-tall blows were seen on the horizon…first one animal, then two, then three blows in a group on one side of the ship. Then calls came for a solo blue whale on the other side of the ship. As the whales came closer, we could appreciate the true size of the largest mammals on Earth. Truly magnificent. Unfortunately, the four humpback whales were largely overlooked, with cameras focused on the tall blows and long, mottled backs of the blue whales. Still, there were cheers as the humpbacks bared their tail fins to power down into the abundant plankton layer that fueled the circus of activity on the surface.

Our final morning found us positioned in front of 14th Julibreen (14th July Glacier) in 14th July Bay. Guests were given a quick tour through the Zodiac garage and the ship’s stern before embarking on our last Zodiac tour from the back deck. Puffins have just started to arrive back in Svalbard to nest. Binoculars and zoom lenses scanned the cliffs and the waterline to spot their yellow beaks among the many guillemots and kittiwakes that were also finding overhead safety from predatory Arctic skuas (jaegers). Other highlights included an Arctic fox on the land, a harbor seal hauled out on a submerged rock, and an Arctic tern colony…unfortunately, wide open prey for the overhead skuas.

We were once again stunned by our luck with the weather. Clear blue skies and sunshine made the temperature feel much warmer than the recorded 3°C. Once back on board, we headed north in Krossfjorden and crossed over the 79th parallel, the farthest point north for many on board. The afternoon was spent basking in the sunshine in front of the massive cirque of Lilliehӧӧkbreen glaciers. A wall of ice circled the ship in almost all directions. It was hard to pull ourselves inside to hear the inspirational story of how Camille Seaman became a National Geographic photographer. Our waistlines were challenged once more with an afternoon tea of pancakes served on the top deck. And the afternoon was rounded off with naturalist Kerstin Langenberger teaching guests to differentiate male from female polar bears.