Svalbad Archipelago

(East of Greenland between the Greenland Sea and Barents Sea)

Magdalena Fjord on Spitsbergen Island in the Svalbad Archipelago

(Photograph by SAFAR Photography)

Rick Dobbie, centre of picture, far left of a group of colleagues on Svalbad

with the dead male polar bear (Photograph courtesy of The Guardian, Australia)

[endif]--In July, 2014 on our first trip to the Arctic we explored the Svalbad Archipelago and further north into the Arctic ocean at one point less than 500 nautical miles from the North Pole. Our very first polar bear sighting was at first just a white speck in noticeable contrast against the grey/yellow green tundra on a small offshore island. Sadly, after scanning for some time with our binoculars and not seeing it move at all we realised that it was lifeless. We took a zodiac from the ship to investigate and our worst fears were confirmed.

Further analysis of this 16-year-old male polar bear’s tag through the Norwegian Polar Institute in Oslo via radio and fax revealed that this bear had for months been trudging and swimming further north in search of food and looking for suitable sea ice to hunt on. Finding none, it eventually starved and died. We had with us Dr. Ian Stirling, a world polar bear expert who said. "From his lying position in death the bear appears to simply have starved and died where he dropped. He had no external suggestion of any remaining fat, having been reduced to little more than skin and bone."

(Photograph by SAFAR Photography)

[endif]--The bear had been examined by scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute in April in the southern part of Svalbard and appeared healthy. The same bear had been captured in this area in previous years and the discovery of its body some 250km away in northern Svalbard in July showed an unusual movement away and north from its normal range. The bear probably followed the fjords inland as it trekked north, and it may well have walked double or treble that distance. This is a stark reminder of the effects of climate change.

We were very lucky on the next trip to the Arctic with many healthy polar bear sightings. Here a female and her two cubs found sleeping on an ice flow. We saw too, many whales; orca (killer whales) and bowhead whales. Below is a killer whale and calf and we saw many seals and walruses as well as some rare sightings of narwhal.

Female and Cubs (Photograph by SAFAR Photography)

[endif]--The Arctic is not all in grayscale. Indeed, the ice predominantly white of course is often airbrushed with many colours principally indigo and turquoise of varying hues. Flora too is often found in bright colours clinging to rocky outcrops and stoically fighting the below freezing temperatures and bleak winds. We have been lucky too as we had all been hoping for an appearance of the aurora borealis, the northern lights – the mystical, celestial light show. For just one night we were privileged to witness a wonderful display lasting almost an hour. As a bonus we also had the glow of bioluminescence in the wake off the stern of our Russian oceanographic research vessel, the “Akademik Sergei Vavilov”. So, in combination, a magical display of light works - the swirling, spinning neon-like green incandescence above and a myriad of twinkling, bobbing golden light bulbs left in our wake.

There is something quite cathartic, serene and tranquil about the lack of internet access, no mobile phone coverage, no ATMs or credit cards, minimal traffic lights or street lights, no reality TV shows of any description, no talent/cooking competitions of any description, no McDonalds, KFC or Starbucks ... Myanmar/Burma has been enriching and enchanting. I described elsewhere watching the sunset over Inle Lake as hundreds of lotuses slowly closed on the water across from my Shan house style balcony with the Shan Hills in the background and “Lakme” playing on my iPod. As close to Paradise as I will ever get. 'Wonderful trip and I can't wait to go back.

I passed this family last night too sleeping on the pavement on a dirty square of cloth. Watching this little boy who seems already street wise and certainly traffic aware run his fingers over the number plate of a motor cycle parked in the gutter running with dirty water and refuse it is hard to even comprehend just how reprehensible an act it is that a country of our comparative wealth and prosperity should reduce our foreign aid and seek to push our unwanted "illegal detainees" onto this country of such poverty struggling to find it's way. A country with an appalling human rights record. The contrast between the lives that my Grandsons have and the future lives they should expect and this little boy could not be greater. Don't misunderstand. I have a great affection for this country. This place of once great grandeur. I have walked the killing fields, stood in the rooms of torture at S21 and wept under a tree inside it's walls in despair. It is a country we should be helping as one of our neighbours not a place to ignore other than a place on which to unload our obligations and responsibilities. This little boy is our responsibility too and this young mother has more dignity, more humanity and more nobility than most of our elected leaders.the dangers of the night, begging. I passed this family last night too sleeping on the pavement on a dirty square of cloth. Watching this little boy who seems already street wise and certainly traffic aware run his fingers over the number plate of a motor cycle parked in the gutter running with dirty water and refuse it is hard to even comprehend just how reprehensible an act it is that a country of our comparative wealth and prosperity should reduce our foreign aid and seek to push our unwanted "illegal detainees" onto this country of such poverty struggling to find it's way. A country with an appalling human rights record. The contrast between the lives that my Grandsons have and the future lives they should expect and this little boy could not be greater. Don't misunderstand. I have a great affection for this country. This place of once great grandeur. I have walked the killing fields, stood in the rooms of torture at S21 and wept under a tree inside it's walls in despair. It is a country we should be helping as one of our neighbours not a place to ignore other than a place on which to unload our obligations and responsibilities. This little boy is our responsibility too and this young mother has more dignity, more humanity and more nobility than most of our elected leaders.

SAFAR travels to and conducts programs in a number of remote and very special places.

Promoting awareness and committing to the preservation of the environment and wildlife conservation are cornerstones of SAFAR policy. Our approach means that when we travel to these remote and often unspoiled destinations we have in place procedures that enable us to conduct all our activities with the highest standards of preservation and conservation. Our objective is to allow participants to experience these fragile regions while minimizing any potentially harmful impact on wildlife and natural habitats.

Arctic Flora (Photograph by SAFAR Photography)[endif]--

Orca and Calf (Photograph by SAFAR Photography)

[endif]--![endif]--![endif]--![endif]--![endif]--![endif]--

#expedition #travel #enviroment

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