Today was an enthralling day of exploring sites of cultural interest and natural beauty in northwestern Svalbard. We enjoyed excursions by Zodiac and on foot, topped off by an evening offshore show of blows, backs, and flukes by several of the world’s largest beasts, blue and fin whales.

In the morning, at Smeerenburg, an important historic site of bowhead whaling in the early 17th century, our sharp-eyed scouts spotted a polar bear on a nearby island, so we switched plans from walks ashore to Zodiac cruises. With our versatile fleet of rubber boats, we crossed the channel to also view the ruins at Virgohamn, site of Salomon Andree’s unsuccessful 1897 attempt to the North Pole by hot air balloon, not to mention stopping by a boat hosted by our hotel staff for hot chocolate.

Puffins and other seabirds were observed as we repositioned the ship down the coast to Hamburgbukta for afternoon hikes. Here, we crossed a flower-filled tundra to view small clouds of chattering little auks returning to their nests, and items of cultural interest, including a cairn, arctic graves, and the remains of a hut. A dozen or more blue and fin whales topped off an already complete day of exploration.