Svalbard Polar Bear Expedition
June 14–24, 2019
Polar Bear on pack ice north of the Seven Islands (Sjuøyane)
In the summer of 2019 I will lead a photography expedition to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located deep within the Arctic Circle. This expedition will be co-lead by Joshua Holko and is for a limited number of just 17 participants. One of our main goals will be to find and photograph Polar Bears in its natural habitat out on the pack ice and Svalbard has historically been one of the most reliable places to photograph bears. Together with the captain and our expedition leader we will decide upon the best strategy to find and photograph Polar Bears on sea ice along with other charismatic Arctic wildlife, such as Walrus. The expedition has been timed for the early summer, when the pack ice should still be fairly close to the northern tip of Spitsbergen (Svalbard’s largest island). Mid-June is also a great time for birds.
We will be using the ice hardened expedition ship M/S Freya that will enable us to skirt the edge of the pack ice if it will be within reach. M/S Freya is widely regarded as one of the best ships in the Arctic for wildlife photography. With low-lying decks it is possible to photograph Polar Bears, Walrus, seals, whales and birds closer and lower than on most other ships. Our expedition ship is also equipped with sufficient zodiacs for all photographers to be shooting simultaneously with plenty of room to spare for camera equipment.
Navigating the pack ice at night
Our flexible itinerary
Upon leaving the small town of Longyearbyen we will know what we will aim for but our plans will change with what we find and with the ice and weather we encounter. Although Polar Bears will be high on our list of photography subjects, the full Svalbard experience is about so much more than the iconic Arctic predator. We will have 10 days to explore the islands and with crew that is able to operate the ship around the clock we can cover a great deal of terrain if we so choose.
Polar Bear on seal kill with attending Glaucous Gulls
What to expect
We have 24-hour daylight in June. This gives us opportunity to enjoy some long days with an extended flexibility of the program. We may add extra landings or Zodiac excursions, and we may shift some mealtimes to make extra use of opportunities provided. The weather can be anything, but freezing daytime air temperatures are infrequent. The fjord ice remains in some areas in some years, other times or at other glacier fronts there is now access right up close. Many landing sites are now quite negotiable after the snowmelt.
June is without doubt the best times for migrant birds, which includes just about all Svalbard birds. Species such as King Eider and Grey/Red Phalarope are best seen before late June, when they are around in flocks before being able to pair out on the tundra. To some extent this is true also of Brent/Brant and Pink-footed Geese. Also the endemic Ptarmigan subspecies is easier to find in June. It is a good time also for vagrants. But all else is pretty much in place, and the colonies of auks and kittiwakes etc are buzzing. Some years, sea-ice prevents much progress east, and the largest colonies remain out of reach – Little Auks (Dovekies) are however within reach on the west coast, and usually Brünnich’s Guillemot (Thick-billed Murre) too (even if not always the largest colony).
Ivory Gull at the edge of the pack ice
Polar Bears are present year round in Svalbard. In June, the cubs of the year are about 6 months old, still with their mothers. Those cubs that have reached 2,5 years of age are off on their own for the first time in their lives. Sometimes we meet these young, newly independent bears – they are often extra inquisitive. Where we see Polar Bears depends a lot on the sea ice. Some years, there is still a lot of sea ice in June, meaning that we find the bears there. Other times, the sea ice has melted back so far that many bears are stranded on shore for the summer. In such years, we can travel far to the east and northeast, and here we often see bears roaming the shores, or even riding small icebergs.
We will make a number of walks across the tundra, watching the Reindeer feed, Arctic Foxes go about ther daily life and the geese and Arctic Terns attending to their young, and the flowers adding colours. We shall also be going out in the inflatables, to explore wildlife, glacier fronts and coastal scenery up close.
You will have a daily program designed to maximize the wildlife and wilderness opportunities that are available. No two expeditions are ever the same. No two sailing routes are the same. The weather always changes. The location of the ice is unpredictable. The wildlife is – just that – wild! What will ensure a unique and extraordinary experience for all participants is the expertise of the guides and the crew combined with everybody’s flexibility and expeditionary spirit.
Female Walrus with a young one
The expedition ship M/S Freya
With a 1360 HP engine, the highest ice class possible, and certification for unrestricted trade, the M/S Freya is an excellent and very useful expedition ship. From 2017, it has a capacity of 24 guests and 2 guides (but we will have a group of only 21 total with guests, leaders and guides).
M/S Freya was originally built in 1981 for the Swedish Maritime Administration as the light house building vessel “FYRBJÖRN”. She is built to fall into Lloyd’s class for unrestricted trade, and has the highest ice class 1A. The vessel was rebuilt and extended with five meters at Holms ship yard in Råå 1995. In the Falkenberg Yard, she was converted into an expedition ship in 2015 and renamed “Freya af Göteborg”.
M/S Freya meets all standards and requirements regarding maritime safety and navigation. She carries three Mark V Zodiacs for guest use.
M/S Freya has six lower-bunk double cabins and four triple cabins (the third bunk folds up/down), all with en-suite facilities. The public areas consist of a lecture room / salon (shared with the crew), a dining and bar area, an aft deck with furniture, and further good amounts of deck space behind the bridge, on the sides and in front of the superstructure, and on the bow.
Svalbard Expedition short film
In 2015 I did a Svalbard Expedition in partnership with Joshua Holko. This short film (link below) about that expedition will give you a good impression of what you will likely be experiencing.
Kingdom of the Ice Bear on Vimeo
Date: June 14–24, 2019
Duration: 10 days/nights
Cost: from $12,450 USD
Group size: 17
Photography leaders: Daníel Bergmann and Joshua Holko
Expedition leader: Morten Jørgensen
Transportation: M/S Malmö & Mark V Zodiacs
Prices are based on double occupancy of cabins and range from $12,450 (4 berths) to $12,950 (10 berths in newer cabins) and $13,450 per person in cabin no. 3 (superior cabin with a double bed). Single occupancy of a cabin will be 1,5 x the cost.
A $3,000 deposit is paid at the time of booking to secure your place. A further $5,000 is due October 15, 2018 and the balance is due before February 15, 2019.
Included in the cost:
• 10 nights of accommodation aboard the ship
• all meals while on board
• water, coffee/tea ad libitum
• guides and crew services
• daily excursions by Zodiac
• instructions from highly experienced photo leaders
• one of Svalbard’s most experienced expedition leader
• lectures, briefings and shore side interpretations
• magnificent scenery and wonderful wildlife encounters
• great company and safe and friendly travel
Excluded in the cost:
• any pre- or post-cruise expenses including flights and transfers
• other drinks than mentioned above
• customary tips for crew and staff
• mandatory insurance
• anything else not specified as included
Please contact me for further information and booking
Arctic Tern – the bird of endless summer