Our Arctic Trip Onboard the M/S Freya

Lorraine Stone

07 Sep 2017

Discovering Mr Bear

We had no idea what to expect from our Arctic trip as we left home armed with the recommended winter clothing and new camera.

Having overnighted at Longyearbyen, we met our fellow passengers and boarded Freya. There were 10 paying passengers including ourselves, Lorna who works for National World Safaris, Shannon and Russ, well known photographers, and video expert and Mats and Oskar, our experienced guides. There was also the lovely Gabby, our boat general manager, a very good cook and the remaining members of the crew, all very friendly and kind. We immediately bonded very with everyone and very much enjoyed hearing their stories. One that sticks in my mind was Oskar telling us of his adventures whilst filming the Hunt.

It was decided that we would motor north directly to get to the pack ice as quickly as possible because a storm was moving in. This meant about 24 hours of pure sailing overnight into the following afternoon.

We enjoyed watching the scenery and wildlife from the decks, it wasn’t long before we spied a whale and the blue colour of the ice was something we continued to marvel at.

After a landing to see a walrus colony, we eventually came to a halt in the ice and could go no further so the engine was switched off and we started looking out for bears. After a couple of hours things started to happen! Two polar bears came right up to the boat. We saw the first one, a small male, way in the distance making a beeline for the boat. My husband reckons he could smell our steak dinner cooking! He stayed for about ten minutes and then ambled away.
   

Not long after the second, a large female with tags in her ears, came up to boat also. Both bears were in very good condition and were very curious, looking at the boats, sniffing and going up on their hind legs for a better look. So much so that the guides got a little worried and tapped the side of the boat to frighten them back a bit. Needless to say it was a very exciting and amazing experience for us, quite unbelievable. We took hundreds of photos and some of them are really good, our favourite being the one below, ‘Mr Bear’.

That evening we walked out on the ice for a bit and the next day moved out of the ice and continued on our way. From then on we saw several more bears on islands but never quite as close. One looked very thin and was a sorry sight. We also found a dead bear washed up on the beach of an island. So sad, the guides believe he must have been so desperate for food that he swam to find some ice flows and potential seal dinners but n ever made it and drowned. Sights like that really make you want to do all possible for the environment!

Each day we had one or two Zodiac rides to see more fantastic animals and scenery.

The walrus were incredible, so curious. If we sat still on the beach the walrus in the water would gradually creep up to about two metres away and then one would spook and they’d all swim back. Their size and bulk is something you can’t imagine. Another highlight was the nesting birds, thousands of them on sheer cliffs, so noisy and quite amazing.

On our last day we visited one last island, very happy with what we had seen and not expecting more. But amazingly enough we did see more – reindeer, more nesting birds and a family of arctic foxes. We were busy photographing a female fox near her foxhole when seven cubs tumbled out, playing and having fun together. We spent a long time watching them and, of course took far too many photos. On our way back we watched baby Brunnich guillemots flying from the cliff for the first time guided by their parents. Happily all the ones we saw made it safely to the sea.

On our way back to the Freya we spotted one last polar bear, a very fitting end to an unforgettable trip.

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