We had decided to “escape” the snow blizzard on the East side and go to the more sheltered West side of Spitsbergen. It was a tough experience to drive the snowmobile in the snowstorm where we could see only 5 metres in front of us.
We had to pass a slippery glacier and difficult slopes (where I fell off the snowmobile), and we drove, with very bad visibility, with the GPS for 30 kms before we got some visibility back again.
When we finally came over to the west side it was great to experience less wind again. Later on, we heard that 26 people were rescued that day from different places on Spitsbergen.
We finally arrived at Tempelfjorden, and decided to stay there for the next few days. Here we had great scenery of the ice and the surrounding mountains. We also heard that there had been seen some polar bears in the area the past few days, which was good music in our ears.
Next morning we started to search for polar bears, but we only found reindeers. A lot of footprints told us that we were in the right area so we just had to wait.
The wind had now picked up also on the west side of Spitsbergen. At 6am there was a strong wind and no visibility so we waited 2-3 hours before we drove up to the amazing glacier Von Postbreen.
And there we finally found a big male polar bear walking in front of the glacier. The light was great and the blue glacier ice was perfect. It was amazing to see this big carnivore in this landscape. I really love the excitement and joy when photographing this royal mammal. Finally I got good use of the big 800/5,6 lens I had brought with me for this mission, and 800mm was just perfect for this type of photography.
The thing about polar bears in Svalbard is that you are not allowed to drive toward bears or force them to change behaviour. That is also the rule for Wild Wonders of Europe photographers on a mission, so we had to wait and see if the bear would come up closer to us. The bear was not very interesting in photographers this day, and we didn’t get some close-ups or funny behaviour. That is usually easier to get on boat expeditions around the island in the summer. After some time we left the polar bear without stressing him.
On our way back we saw a ringed seal lying on the ice. Usually the seals dive into their ice holes pretty fast, but this one looked not so shy.
We started to crawl like marine soldiers. 50 – 40 – 30 – 20 – 10 metres, and the seal was still lying on the ice. With the 800 mm I came up to about a 6 metre distance, which is the closest distance I could go, and this time I got some close-ups.
It was really interesting to lie so close to this seal, and to see the details in the fur etc. These were my first pictures ever of these interesting seals, and I have been on quite a few photo expeditions to Svalbard. Great!!!
The reason why the ringed seal was lying so still on the ice was because it was close to give birth. The ringed seals are digging out small caves in the ice or snow for their newborn seals. We found evidence of this already in the morning when we saw fresh marks of a cave, which was dug up by a polar bear. And not far away we saw two polar bears in the distance – and they were mating. WOW!! I really would like to get much closer to this action, but again it’s not allowed to drive up to polar bears, especially not when they are mating.
So we got some “landscape” pictures of the bears. After the mating they went away from us and started to dig up a new seal cave, but that time without luck. The two “lovers” were not interested in us at all and just walked away, which is not unusual. On my 6 trips to Svalbard I have photographed polar bears on 5 of the trips, but only about 15% of the bears are coming close to the photographers. Out of these 15% there are just a few bears that show really interesting behaviour for the photographers.
After two great days with polar bears we went back to Longyearbyen to finish this mission. We got some pictures of the black guillemot which are in their mating season now. Later in the day we headed for the airport to go back south.
That’s all from me for now. But I will be back again in the beginning of July with another blog from my summer expedition to Spitsbergen / Svalbard.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.