For in-depth information about the Svalbard archipelago, its fascinating landscape and wildlife, but also the dramatic changes as a result of global warming and increasing cruise tourism and the controversial debate about stricter regulations to protect the delicate environment and fauna, in particular the polar bears, please read the comprehensive description in the top drop-down menu above the 2008 gallery.
The voyage in 2009 took place from Aug 28th to September 7th, which were about the same dates as in the year before.The itinerary at some point was similar as in 2008, too (see the maps) but this time also included a visit of the Alkefjellet and Bråsvellbreen. The main stops or points of interest are indicated in the map below.
- 1. Fair Haven (dead fin whale, polar bears)
- 2. 80°N/Moffen
- 3. Alkefjellet (Brünnich’s guillemots)
- 4 . Bjørnsund
- 5. Sørporten (Icebergs, 2 walrus on ice)
- 6. Bråsvellbreen
- 7. Wahlbergøya (walrus)
- 8. Parryøya (polar bear on sea ice)
- 9. Northern Duvefjord/Repøyane (sea ice)
- 10. Polar bear cannibalism
- 11. Rossøya (northernmost iceland, passage)
- 12. Parryøya (polar bear cannibalism, –> 10)
- 13. Holmiobukta (dead fin whale, several polar bears)
travel map by Rolf Stange, edited
Ice Chart from August 27th/28th 2009 © Norwegian Meterological Institute
Anyway, every voyage around Svalbard is different and offers new experiences and sights no matter of the route. In 2009, the encounters of several polar bears feeding on a fin whale carcass in Holmiabukta was a special highlight and had offered many options for photography. Images of the polar bears on the fin whale carcass had been published in many media. We also met a BBC crew at the location, filming a sequence for the known Blue Planet movie.
The second even more spectacular but also macabre and somewhat sad experience was the sight of a polar bear cannibalism on the sea ice north of Nordaustlandet where we consequently had anchored in the distance for an overnight stay to photograph the extraordinary event that is very seldom observed: At our arrival there, a male polar bear was feeding on a conspecific that had apparently been killed not too long ago, tried to rip off its fur and later also dragged the carcass across the ice. When on the next morning the bear had disappeared from the scene, our ship was positioned nearer to the dead bear for a closer inspection. It was somewhat adventurous to walk over the ice to the carcass since the polar bear certainly was still around. Up close we could clearly spot the probably fatal holes in the head of the dead bear, caused by the claws of the larger and stronger conspecific.
Although we had not witnessed the deadly tragedy before arriving on the site, everyone on the ship therefore agreed that the bear had been killed by the conspecific and was not already dead and just being scavenged, especially since there was also a pool of blood near the carcass, and the male polar bear had a bloody wound on his hint leg, too – indicating the fight.
Aside from this spectacular but creepy scene, we also could photograph the breathtaking landcapes with icebergs floating by as well as walruses and bearded seals on ice floes. We also stopped at the Alkefjellet for watching the still remaining guillimots and visited the Bråsvellbreen, the longest glacier front of the Northern hemisphere.The beautiful late summer light that bathed the landscape in pastel tones along with colorful sunsets was often a bonus on this trip.
In summary, it was a fascinating voyage again.
As for the equipment, I had basically used the same cameras and lenses as the year before.
Wildlife, such as polar bears, walrus and seals, was photographed with the 600mm/f4 L IS USM Canon and 300mm/f2.8 L IS USM lenses, often including the 1.4x II or 2.0x II Extenders mounted on the EOS-1D Mark III, EOS-1Ds Mark III or EOS 1-Ds Mark II cameras. For closer subjects , for example the birds at the Alkenfjellet, I also had used the 70-200mm/f2.8 L IS USM Zoom which in combination with the 28-70mm/f.2.8 L USM and 24-105mm/f4.0 L IS USM mm was the main lens for capturing the landscape and sceneries, too. A few shots were taken with the 14mm/f.2.8 L USM wide angle lens