To further enhance your experience, the Expedition Team on MS Fram will give presentations and lectures on the history, culture, traditions, navigation and wildlife. The Expedition Team consists of experts from numerous fields and backgrounds and they are always happy to answer your questions. Together with the crew they will make your time on board, and the landings we make, really worthwhile!
While in Svalbard, we will attempt to land several places. On land, our Expedition Team will explain what you see and help you avoid disturbing nature and wildlife. When conditions allow, kayaking, hikes or other activities on land and sea may be offered. Participation on any hike requires a good level of fitness, and that you are accustomed to hiking in uneven terrain.
We will take advantage of the conditions at hand. On an expedition with MS Fram this means that the Captain and Expedition Leader monitors conditions at hand closely; where is the ice edge, how can we expect the ice drift, where is the ice landlocked, what is the prevailing winds and currents. We obviously have some wishes on where to go, but at this time of the year we have to expect weather- and especially ice conditions to be highly variable. The ice edge of the Arctic Ocean is now at its lowest latitudes – this is a highly productive area biologically as plankton and algae is growing beneath the ice. This cornerstone biological production is an immensely important part of the web of life and attracts all kinds of other animal- and birdlife that thrives here. At the top of this food web we find the big predators – including the polar bear.
Will we see polar bears?
Within the Svalbard Archipelago there are about 3000 polar bears – more than there are humans and probably one of the largest concentrations on Earth. That said; polar bears are solitude animals with no set colony or living area – they roam wherever they can expect to find food and only the pregnant females use denning areas during winter and only when they are expecting offspring.
However; the more eyes scouting through binoculars the higher is the chance of observing the King of the Arctic. The polar bear is a marine mammal hence it is more likely to observe it close to water or even in water. Whenever close to drift ice there is a chance that a polar bear uses this as a platform when at sea.
In very rare occasions dead whales or walrus drift ashore on Svalbard beaches. These tend to attract all kinds of wildlife – including polar bears. Bottom line is that we often observe polar bears on this itinerary – not every day and seldom on very close range – there are no guarantees for sure. But; one of the biggest fascinations or this expedition is the chance of being really lucky spotting one. One of the really nice “by-products” of looking for polar bears is that it sensitizes the observer to other wildlife such as birds and other marine mammals. You get a lot from observing sharply in Svalbard!
What about the walrus?
Since the protection of walrus in 1952 the Svalbard population has grown from being decimated down to only a few animals to a strong population with several haul outs scattered around the whole archipelago.
The two best ways to observe walrus is from the vessel when they are hauled out on ice flows or from shore, close to the well-established haul out places. In order to understand where haul outs may be you’d have to understand that the walrus feeding method; they are shallow divers that feed on benthic fauna that are hiding in sediments on the bottom.
To find these shellfish and molluscs they use their hypersensitive whiskers to locate for then to suck in the food with high pressure with the mouth. Gently graduated beaches close to larger shallow areas are good habitats – a landing close to a walrus colony is an experience for all senses (in particular smell), but such places that are suitable for small boat operations are limited and often exposed to wind and swell. No guarantee – but we often see walrus on our expeditions in Spitsbergen.