Hornsund

On our first morning on the ship we awoke to quite a treat: whales everywhere!

We observed humpback whales feeding quite close to the ship, occasionally flashing their tails (fluke) to us before diving down. We also observed the humpback whales in a cooperative feeding strategy where one will blow a “net of bubbles” to trap fish while another will swim up the column of bubbles to enjoy a fishy treat.

The humpback whales weren’t alone, for we also saw a group of fin whales incredibly close to the ship! Fin whales are the second largest whale in the world, and although they were hunted during much of the 20th century for their blubber, oil, and baleen, they are making a comeback. It was especially heartening to see a young fin whale calf close to the ship, even showing us her belly at one point.

Fin whales are the second largest whale in the world (next to blue whales). We were delighted to have a family (including a calf!) pay the ship a visit.

Fin whales are the second largest whale in the world (next to blue whales). We were delighted to have a family (including a calf!) pay the ship a visit.

As we continued on our way to Hornsund we encountered some more wildlife: puffin, northern fulmar, and a large group of harp seal!

Harp seal, one of the main sources of food for polar bear, swam alongside the ship with gusto.

Harp seal, one of the main sources of food for polar bear, swam alongside the ship with gusto.

Between the clicking and whirring of camera motors and the excitement that’s buzzing around the ship I try to stop and take a breathe and look around me. I’m in the middle of the Arctic ocean, on the top of our planet, arguably one of the wildest and most remote places on the planet and it is abundant with life. Though this is a harsh environment from the perspective of mammals like me, this place is the only place in the world that many of the animals we’ve seen this morning want to be.

I look around at the bright blue sky, smell the salty air, gaze across to the mountains with massive glaciers flowing straight into the sea and smile. I can already tell that this is going to be a fantastic expedition.

Making our way to Hornsund.

Making our way to Hornsund.

After enjoying our pre-breakfast wildlife extravaganza we headed into Hornsund, a fjord on the southwestern tip of Spitzbergen.

The ship heads into Hornsund, a fjord on the southwestern edge of Spitzbergen.

The ship heads into Hornsund, a fjord on the southwestern edge of Spitzbergen.

While in the fjord we see a pair of walrus lazily lounging on a piece of ice, aware of the ship, but mostly unconcerned.

Fellow teacher Enrique snaps a picture of walrus in their icy environment from the ship's deck.

Fellow teacher Enrique snaps a picture of walrus in their icy environment from the ship’s deck.

A walrus and her calf taking it easy on a piece of ice. It's important to conserve your energy in a place like the Arctic.

A walrus and her calf taking it easy on a piece of ice. It’s important to conserve your energy in a place like the Arctic.

Hornsund in all of its blue and white glory.

Hornsund in all of its blue and white glory.

After spending some time admiring a pair of walrus, mountains, glaciers, and small icebergs floating in the fjord we headed for a rocky point within Hornsund called “Gnålodden.”

Here on Gnålodden, which roughly translates to murmuring cliff, we hear much more than a murmur. This place is home to a large colony of black-legged kittiwake, a small and abundant gull in the Arctic. As we roam across the tundra and scramble across the rocks we admire a the sheer abundance of birdlife, and keep our eyes open for arctic fox that can often be found near bird colonies.

Here is Mr. Leatherback, a representative from the Oceanic Society, showing his enthusiasm for the abundant wildlife we've seen already in Svalbard.

Here is Mr. Leatherback, a representative from the Oceanic Society, showing his enthusiasm for the abundant wildlife we’ve seen already in Svalbard.

Black-legged kittiwakes come to these cliffs to nest in great numbers.

Black-legged kittiwakes come to these cliffs to nest in great numbers.

Another site we came upon was a trappers cabin. While it may look old and unused (we found a large drift of snow in the cabin as a matter of fact) this cabin and others like it are still used every winter.

Trapper's Cabin

Trapper’s Cabin

Enrique in the trapper's cabin. Bunk beds, dart board, short ceilings.

Enrique in the trapper’s cabin. Bunk beds, dart board, short ceilings.

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