Midnight Bears, 3AM bear and seven islands passage

(written 17 August)

Martin woke us around midnight to say that the bears had come back to near the boat. Got back into all of the thermal gear and headed out to have a look. At first it seemed to just be two of the cubs having another go at the remains, some way off. Just as things seemed to be over, and some had drifted back to bed, they moved closer, away from the carcass, and started playing again. Watched them play for an hour or so, until they work the third one up, who grumped past them and then all three left. Photos weren’t great, because of the distance and the fog, but it counts as another sighting.

Then at around 3AM there was another call to come up, quietly: one of the bears was right by the ship. In fact we discovered later that a couple of the passengers had woken up and looked out of their window, finding themselves face to face with the bear. By the time I made it up to the deck, it was by the stern, and already having second thoughts about the boat and all of the clicky, beepy noises coming from the deck. I got a couple of close-ish shots before it moved away a little distance. Then it did a very peculiar thing: it seemed to turn and perform for the cameras. It climbed a little hill of snow and ice, rolled onto its back, basking. Then it paddled towards the sloping edge, on its belly, and slid down, as though on a slippery slide, rolling over as it went. It picked itself up, looked squarely at us, to make sure that all of the camera clicking was going on, did a little courtsey, and then wandered off, away from the boat. After a little while it decided that the next floe was better, and hopped into the water and swam away to it.

After that, and after breakfast, we started the engines to make for the seven islands, at the north-eastern edge of Svalbard, as weather was coming up from the south, and we wanted to beat it. If it beat us, we would find shelter in the islands, and figure out what to do in the morning. If we beat it, we would press on to the mouth of a seldom-explored fjord, which we would explore the next day. It was a lumpy passage, but we made it to the islands before the weather. In fact, the sun came out as we passed between them, giving some lovely shots.

I went to bed before we reached our anchorage at the mouth of the fjord, but when I got up I discovered that there were three bears on it, of which one was somewhat visible by then. That is a story for the next instalment though.


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