As we began our second full day exploring the Norwegian High Arctic of Svalbard, we were immersed in fog. Relatively warm southerly winds (keyword here is “relatively”) blew over the cold waters and extensive areas of sea ice in Storfjorden. These winds produced fog, and we couldn’t see far. But as National Geographic Resolution continued her way north, we soon left the fog behind. A wonderful soft light allowed us to see the multiple subtle tones and colors in the ice floes that completely surrounded us. On one of those floes, we found a couple walruses resting. The beautiful ship approaching didn’t bother them. We watched the walruses and photographed them from viewing points on different decks. The younger individual, sporting shorter tusks, occasionally raised its head to look at us for a few moments before going back to sleep. The walruses were surely tired after diving for clams, mussels, and other mollusks to feed. Walruses forage on the seafloor. They look for shellfish that they extract from shells using tremendous sucking power. Once they get the tasty creature, they leave behind the shells. Walruses are an iconic creature in the Arctic. We were fortunate to get excellent views of them in their natural habitat early in the morning and again in the afternoon.
We entered and explored Freemansundet, the channel that separates Edge and Barents Islands. It was an arctic dream of sea ice, and we all enjoyed watching National Geographic Resolution’s amazing ability to navigate through it. Eventually, we turned around because of dense fog banks and returned to Storfjorden. We kept looking for wildlife along the way and observed numerous reindeer grazing for lichens and grasses on both Edge and Barents Islands. Fulmars and black guillemots were present throughout the day, and we even watched an arctic fox trying to surprise a couple of nesting barnacle geese in their nest. A large mixed flock of common and king eiders swam along the ice peacefully. I personally have never seen so many king eiders before, more than thirty!
After dinner, we tried something new and went for a walk on a large ice floe drifting in Storfjorden. National Geographic Resolution parked, and we all walked down the gate for the rare opportunity of walking on the frozen ocean. It was the perfect ending to a great day spent exploring the Norwegian High Arctic!
Photo caption: Group photo in front of National Geographic Resolution