A new day on expedition offered the opportunity to explore a different island on the Svalbard archipelago. Today, our attention was on Edgeøya, the third largest island located to the east of Spitsbergen, where we started our voyage.
An overcast day with a light breeze–and no signs of polar bears in the vicinity–translated into optimal conditions for a landing. We quickly got ready for hiking in the Arctic tundra: excitement and waterproof footwear were all we needed to enjoy the gentle slopes around Årdalsnuten. The valley is surprisingly green in this otherwise barren land. Clumps of moss and saxifrage create a grazing area for many bird species, but we were drawn to the charismatic Svalbard reindeer. A herd of curious reindeer became the welcome party to those venturing ashore, but soon the hoofed herbivores lost interest in the blue parkas and continued with their daily grazing; the summer is short and they must fatten up to survive the harsh Arctic winter ahead.
In the afternoon, we sailed to Kapp Lee on the northwestern corner of Edgeøya. This place is known for its imposing cliffs and for having an equally impressive haul-out of walruses. In small groups, we disembarked on the beach and walked quietly towards these fantastic beasts. We were in awe of their size and distinctive tusks, and were amused by the social behaviour of piling up on top of each other during naptime. It works well until someone needs to turn over and disrupts the peace of the herd. The experienced eye of Carl Erik, one of our onboard naturalists, calculated around 200 walruses (mostly bachelors) in this group. What a sight to remember!
In the evening, as the day drew to a close, we were all invited to the bridge. The officers and naturalists had been busy looking far into the distance and onto the sea ice. As a result, two polar bears were spotted before midnight! Is this the lucky sign for more sightings to come?