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An Invitation to Meet the Arctic’s Wildlife Denizens

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Feature image by Nansen Weber Photography

Landing ashore Somerset Island, Nunavut, some 500 miles above the Arctic Circle, is in itself a rare event only a handful of Arctic wilderness adventurists, photographers and researchers have had the privilege of experiencing firsthand. Already known as the premier site for observing beluga whales, Somerset Island is also home to the most beautiful and exotic land-based occupants of the extreme north, from Arctic foxes and hares to muskox and polar bears.

 Imagine having the opportunity to see these amazing animals in their natural habitat…all within a short distance from the comforts of an intimate 5-star lodge situated in the center of the Arctic’s wildlife habitat! As of summer 2015, you can: Quark Expeditions has partnered with Arctic Watch to offer Arctic wildlife lovers a 10-day Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge expedition, kicking off in 2015 for six weeks in July and August.

By Land or By Sea

By kayak, raft, ATV or foot, you may encounter any (or perhaps even many) of the Arctic’s wild inhabitants. An Arctic wildlife outing may bring you up close and personal with…

Arctic Fox

 

Arctic Fox Photo courtesy of Nansen Weber Photography

White or blue-gray by winter, during the summer months you’ll find the Arctic fox sporting its alternative camouflage coat of brown and gray to blend in with the tundra’s seasonal landscape of rocks and ground-hugging vegetation. Spring brings a typically large litter of Arctic fox pups, up to 14! So it may be a hiker’s (or ATV rider’s) delight to see these inquisitive, playful youngsters frolicking about the tundra – and mom at her wit’s end trying to rein them in.

Arctic Hare

 

Arctic Hare Photo courtesy of Nansen Weber Photography

Like the Arctic fox, the Arctic hare changes out its snowy-white winter wardrobe for a blue-gray hue to conceal it from the sharp eyes of its predators. And like the Arctic fox, these extreme northern hares give birth in the spring and early summer, though not as prolifically – averaging anywhere from two to eight offspring per season. Somewhat larger than rabbits found in more temperate climes, the Arctic hare uses its elongated hind legs to sprint up to speeds of 60 kilometers per hour – another adaptation to help it elude predators… like the Arctic Fox!

Arctic Muskox

 

Muskox Photo courtesy of Nansen Weber Photography

A behemoth with a strictly vegetarian diet, the Arctic muskox sustains itself with the tundra’s bountiful salad of mosses, lichens, roots, flowers and grasses (the latter in the summer). If you do run across muskoxen, chances are it’ll coincide with their dramatic summer rutting (mating) season. Bulls will bellow, lower their heads and charge their rivals in their efforts to establish dominance and thereby claim their own “harem” of females.

The rutting season is timed to occur just after the female muskox has given birth to a single calf, between April and June. The young are up on their feet within hours of birth, so should you happen upon a herd, sometimes numbering from 24 to 36 animals, don’t be surprised if they snort, stomp, and form a protective circle around their young!

Ringed Seal

 

Ringed Seal Photo courtesy of Nansen Weber Photography

Named for its gray-white rings stylishly adorning its gray coat, the Arctic ringed seal is by far the most widespread Arctic marine mammal. Once the sea-ice has yielded in late spring and early summer, ringed seals – including their individual broods of a single spring-born pup – may be seen along the edges of the shore ice or in open water. Ringed seals favor Arctic cod, but are also fond of krill and shrimp. They are known to dive to depths of up to 90 meters in search of their favorite food, and can stay submerged for up to 45 minutes.

Polar Bear

 

Polar Bear Photo taken by a Quark passenger

Where there are seals, there are likely to be polar bears. Polar bears relish the seals’ fat, a ready source of high-calorie food. You may spy a polar bear stalking the edges of an ice floe or breathing holes frequented by the seals. The undisputed sovereign of the Arctic and the largest species of the world’s bears, a mature male polar bear can weigh in at 351 to 544 kilograms (775 to 1,200 pounds). Mature females, generally half that size, are still formidable, especially so when protecting their young. A female polar bear, with anywhere from one to three cubs tagging along, will emerge from her winter’s den in early spring (late March to early April). So come summer, and come some good fortune, you may realize the Arctic wildlife lover’s dream of watching this magnificent animal teaching her young how to hunt. They’re already skilled at play!

Other Arctic wildlife you may spy include caribou, snowy owls, majestic peregrine falcons, and of course, beluga whales!

Learn more about Quark’s new land-based Arctic adventure and the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge and give us a call with any questions.

We hope to see you next summer!

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A day in the life: Spitsbergen, Arctic

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Ever wonder what it's like to be on an Arctic expedition? This video gives you an intimate snapshot of a day in the life of one of our Spitsbergen voyages. Time spent in Spitsbergen is always unique from one day to the next. Epic, awesome and majestic, the Arctic region of Svalbard region is full of wildlife and amazing scenery just waiting for you. Come explore the Arctic and Antarctica with Quark Expeditions.

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A day in the life: Spitsbergen, Arctic

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Sea Spirit: The Ultimate in Comfort Expedition

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Polar expeditions, by nature, are meant to be immersive, explorative adventures enabling passengers to truly get up close and personal with the wildlife and nature of these remote destinations. Some say that the key difference with expedition travel is that it’s all about the destination – not the ship. However, all Polar exploration ships are not created equal. True expedition should not come at the cost of personal comfort; the environment may be harsh and inhospitable, but your ship should be a welcome haven.

Sea Spirit

Although purpose-built for expedition cruising, Quark’s all-inclusive ship, Sea Spirit, is the epitome of comfort and class, carrying out the same expedition experience as those former Russian scientific vessels Quark once operated, however using significantly less fuel then we used to consume. Of course, less fuel means a lighter carbon footprint. Sea Spirit is also capable of carrying out all those hallmarks of expedition cruising such as flexibility of changing course or altering plans to take advantage of weather, sea conditions, wildlife sightings or any other serendipitous occasion.

Sea Spirit

No comfort is spared aboard this intimate but spacious luxury expedition ship, which carries just 114 passengers with an seasoned expedition team of historians, biologists and ornithologists. Your expedition will be led by two of the most seasoned Expedition Leaders, Cheli Larsen and Shane Evoy for the Antarctic 2013.14 season. The smaller number of passengers also means those interested in adventure options such as kayaking can enjoy the intimacy of smaller group outings.

Sea Spirit’s amenities do set it apart from the rest of Quark’s fleet. The all-inclusive beverages feature allows guests the freedom to enjoy their trip without being concerned about the final bill, and three categories of generously-sized cabins — are an absolute premium selling feature – especially for Quark’s longer itineraries.

Sea Spirit SuiteSea Spirit

Whatever your preferred travel style, Quark has a diverse fleet of modern ships to ensure every passenger experiences true expedition in comfort.

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Guest Post: Antarctica through the Eyes of an Arctic Aficionado by Andrew White

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As someone who has truly been bitten by the Arctic bug, I was chomping at the bit to see Antarctica. And as the newest member of the Quark sales team, I was looking forward to seeing a Quark expedition in action. Like most salespeople it is easier to sell something you have experienced and even easier if you are genuinely passionate about it. Would it stack up to my experiences in the Arctic? Would I be able to sell Antarctica as passionately as I can sell the Arctic? And more importantly, would I get sick crossing the Drake Passage? (Yes. Yes. And NO!)

I overheard one passenger say that she had brought four books to read during the voyage but there was so much to do and so much to see that she didn't have time to crack open even the first book. To me, that sums up the experience of seeing Antarctica. A Quark Expeditions trip to Antarctica is sensory overload and I definitely ‘came back different.’ Based on the many conversations I had with guests as well as having read all the customer feedback surveys, I wasn't the only one! Not only did I return with friendships and memories that I will take to my grave but I also returned with a profound respect and sense of deep appreciation for the world’s last great wilderness.

Iceberg Antarctica

Ice: In Antarctica, it’s all about scale and colour of these amazing icescapes. The blue ice totally “blew” me away. They may measure in excess of 25 cubic miles whereas the Arctic masses are measured in mere yards. 90% of the all the ice and 70% of all the fresh water on the planet is in Antarctica, these stats are quite staggering and completely dwarf ice caps as massive as even those found in Greenland. But stats are stats; you need to experience the sheer scale of enormity, the texture, the colour and the movement of the ice – photos and video simply don’t capture its immensity.

Penguins Antarctica

Wildlife: To see wildlife in Antarctica you just have to be there! Thousands of penguins, hundreds of seals, plenty of whales and unique bird life galore – the soaring albatross or the leopard seal patrolling the shore will stay in my memory forever. To stand in the middle of a large penguin colony and witness parents taking turns waddling from their nest to the water to gather enough krill (which can take days), to then return to find their hungry chicks (amongst thousands of others) and regurgitate the krill into their chick’s mouths is a sight to behold; the 'circle of life' takes on a new meaning. If frequency of sighting and quantity of wildlife is high on your list then Antarctica is your destination. When I guide in the Arctic I tell guests that we cannot absolutely guarantee we will see polar bears, narwhals, musk ox, belugas, wolf and walrus (which is what makes those sightings so unique and magical), BUT seeing an abundance of wildlife in Antarctica on every excursion is guaranteed!

Needless to say, I can’t wait until my next trip – I have been well and truly bitten by the Antarctic bug. Bring on South Georgia, the Falklands, and let’s cross the circle while we’re at it. This trip was just the tip of the iceberg (pardon the pun). And yes, now I am more than a salesperson for Quark, I am an evangelist!

For anyone considering a trip to Antarctica I defy you to look at photos and watch video and not feel compelled to visit this uniquely special part of the world. And if that still doesn't do it for you, call me directly and I would be happy to share first-hand what to expect (1.416.645.8252).

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10 things you didn't know about the walrus!

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1. A walrus can hold it's breathe under water for up to 30 minutes.

2. The adult male walrus can weigh from 900kg to 1400kg (2000 to 3000lbs) and can grow to 12ft in length.

3. Although the walruses body looks bald, it's actually covered with a thin layer of fur.

4. The tusks of the male walrus can weight over 3 pounds each.

5. The walruses scientific name, 'Odobenus rosmarus', is Latin for 'tooth-walking sea-horse'.

6. The walrus whiskers are not actually whiskers. They are extremely sensitive tactile organs which they use to hunt for food.

7. Every two to three years the female walrus gives birth to a single calf in May or June.

8. Walruses live on Arctic land and water (and the best way to see them is with Quark Expeditions!)

9. The walrus feeds on mussels, clams, fish, worms and sometimes will attack seals

10. The walrus can live up to 20 to 30 years old in the wild

 

 

 

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Part 2: Journey to the Arctic with Janet & John Tangney

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Janet & John Tangney have been married for almost 41 years and live in Oregon. John's full time job is writing Computer Aided Design software, and Janet was previously a pre-school teacher and substitute teacher for high school special education class. While John is a photo enthusiast, Janet also enjoys the hobby. They primarily go to National Parks in the USA on their travels, and love the Northwest. John had previously gotten to go to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions, and hopes to be able to return to there with Janet in a couple of years. They have a website, www.pbase.com/jctangney where they post photos for all to view and enjoy.

Janet & John Tangney embarked on Quark's 11 day Spitsbergen Explorer, Wildlife Capital of the Arctic. This Arctic paradise is perfect for first-time visitors. Below is Part 2 of the their exciting journey!

Saturday, 06-29-2013

Overnight the ship sailed back through the Freemansundet (Freeman Strait), south along Spitsbergen Island, around the southern tip and then sailed north to Bellsund Fjord. Bellsund is dominated by high peaks and rocky cliffs, interspersed with glaciers. The 1 km wide island of Akeloya separaes Bellsund from its two main branches, Van Mijenfjorden and Van Keulenfjorden Fjords and extends up to 80 km inland. We were sup-posed to land on the north shore of Bellsund at Van Mijenfjord, but due to wind and waves, switched to a south shore landing at a small fjord, Recherchefjorden (#10 on map). So, this was a fairly easy landing and return, unlike our previous landing. We hiked around on the tundra for a couple of hours, but other than a few birds didn't see any wildlife. Trappers built the structures that remain in the area in the early 1900’s. There are graves with crosses which have fallen because the land moves with the freezing & thawing cycle of the seasons. Due to the permafrost, the trappers could only dig shallow graves, so they were easy to dig up by animals.

Bellsund Purple Sandpiper

Sunday, 06-30-2013
Overnight, we sailed out of Bellsund Fjord north along the coast of northeast Spitzbergen (island), around the northest tip of Spitzbergen and then into Woodfjorden (4th longest fjord in Svalbard) with plans to land on Worsleyneset, a promontory or small peninsula (#11 on map). A male polar bear was spotted on the shore be-fore we even got in the zodiacs, so we could only cruise around the fjord. We watched him walk briskly by 3 reindeer, but none of the reindeer seemed to care because they could easily outrun him. We would continue to see this same male bear as he made his way along the shore of the fjord.
Once on the zodiacs, a second bear (a female) was seen walking along the shore as we moved further into the fjord. The guides can tell even from a distance if it’s a male or female by the size since males are really much bigger.

Close up we could see that she had lost a radio collar recently, by the indent on her neck. Males are never collared because their head is smaller than their neck (or they just don’t have a “neck”). So a collar would just slide off a male easily. This female had a reddish cast over her fur. Actually her entire lower body is red. There is some mineral in the water that causes this. It’s easy to see the water line on her face and body. The zodiacs were following her from a distance. She walked along the shore out to the end of a narrow strip of land, stopped and laid down. The 8 or 9 zodiacs slowly moved in front of her as she closed her eyes. Occa-sionally she opened her eyes, saw those creatures in yellow jackets floating in front of her, then closed her eyes again. Not long after that that first large male bear approached the same area. He did not disturb her, although the guides think she was probably aware of him in the area.

Polar Bear Polar BEar

Our zodiac driver, Patrick, decided that the male would probably cross over the hill and we could zip around the hill on the water and catch sight of him again. He was right. The bear kept on walking but in a few minutes we again came across him and now he was approaching our zodiac. By now all the other zodiacs were mov-ing into position to watch him. He kept coming towards us and when he reached the water, he stopped, looked around at the zodiacs then walked into the water. He swam across the inlet, crawled out on the other side and proceeded up to the top of a ridge to shake the water off his fur, with a mountain setting behind him. John got a really good photo of him shaking. In the afternoon, we went on a zodiac cruise to the end of Leifdefjord (“love fjord”) to see Monacobreen, Monaco Glacier (#12 on map). Monaco Glacier was named for Prince Albert of Monaco who led expeditions mapping the glacier in 1906-1907.

As we cruised through the fjord, we passed many smaller glaciers. It was like a giant cul-de-sac of glaciers coming down to the sea. Monaco Glacier is over 3 miles wide where it en-ters the sea. We watched a smaller glacier calving and road out the waves. Once a glacier calves, there's literally swarms of birds circling around the area looking for tiny sea creatures that have been stirred up from the ice that fell into the sea. Then all the ice that has fallen now clogs the fjord so it's a very rough ride in the zodiac making our way back to the ship. I took over 1600 photos (90% will probably be blurry due to taking them in a moving zodiac) today alone and that must have been a record for me. John took about 1400 photos. Also saw 2 walrus in the water and 2 Minke whales. Amazing scenery, glaciers and mountains surrounding the entire fjord in all directions. As we returned to the ship, it started sprinkling. It's now raining hard. Anoth-er zodiac cruise is planned in 2 hours in front of a glacier.

Walrus Ice

Tonight at 10pm we passed the 80 degree North latitude (#13 on map) and we had a BBQ out on the top deck. We were wrapped in our yellow parkas huddling together to keep warm. Our ex-pedition leader, Woody, wore Hawaiian shirt with no parka! Off the port side of the ship as we celebrated crossing the 80 degree point, we saw a walrus “haul-out” on a nearby shore. From the collec-tive gathering of warm walrus bodies (at least 50) combined with the right atmospheric conditions, we could see steam rising from the haul-out.

80 Degrees North Walrus

Monday, 07-01-2013
So we are sailing near the ice pack in this as we sail southeast through Hinlopenstretet (Hinlopen Strait) to-day. This strait lies between the islands of Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet. We haven't seen this kind of ice until today. Up to now, we see icebergs and some sea ice, but this is like puzzle pieces all floating together as it continues to break up along with icebergs, which have calved from glaciers. In the afternoon, we did a zodiac cruise past the cliffs of Alkefjellet on Kapp (cape of) Fanshawe also known as “Mount Guillemot” in Hinlopen Strait (#14 on map) which is the breeding site of 60,000 breeding pairs of Brunnich’s Guillemots. Several species of other birds also nest there in the summer. There is an estimated 250,000 breeding pairs of all birds here for 3 months of the year. The Guillemots fly and swim like pros, but water take offs and landings are hilarious. They glide down low and after a while then just flop ungracefully into the water. Takeoffs are running across the water while flapping furiously taking a long time to actually get airborne. They frequently collide with others attempting to either land or take off. We watched a Great Skua (a large sea gull type bird) tackle one of these little guys, hold him underwater to drown him, all the while other Guillemots were swimming by glancing casually at the take down or just swim-ming by the ensuing murder without even taking notice. Even for those of us who don't fully appreciate birds, it was an amazing site.

Guillemots Gulliemot

Tuesday, 07-02-2013

Backtracking now, north of Spitsbergen Island overnight, we headed south into Smeerenburgfjorden, Smeerenburg Fjord (#16 on map), on the northwest corner of Spitsbergen. John and I opted out of the zodiac landing this morning on the small island of Amsterdamoya. It's all about the whaling settlement in this area in the 1600's, not our thing. John is work-ing on photos that he wants to submit for the DVD which is a collection of photos that passengers could submit, then everyone gets a copy of it. Tonight is the end of submitting photos. I saw 3 puffins fly by me Monday morning. I was just headed in the door, so I couldn't get a shot of them, but I said it to the few people sitting in the lounge. I didn't see any more, so I asked one of the staff if I really could have seen puffins. He said there aren't many here right now, but yes, I probably did. I was bragging that I must have seen the first puffins on the trip, but people from England told me that puffins are all over the coastal areas of Great Britain. Oh well!

After lunch we went on a zodiac cruise from Smeerenburgfjorden (#16 on map) to Fuglefjorden, Fugle Fjord (#17 on map) , exploring the glaciers and looking for wildlife. This entire area is part of Nordvest-Spitsbergen Nasjonalpark, Northwest Spitsbergen National Park. We saw glaciers calving, lots of sea birds, including Common Eider Ducks (I got great photo of that) plus puffins. John got a really good photo of a pair of puffins. It is amazing to think that for nearly 3 months, it never gets dark. But then even more amazing to think that this area is in total darkness for the same amount of time. This whole adventure will be ending in 2 days. I will be glad to get home (I miss petting a dog.) But will be sad to see this end at the same time.

Atlantic Puffins Glacier

Wednesday, 07-03-2013

We sailed at night south along the northwest corner of Spitsbergen then rounding the tip of island, Prins Karls Forland, for a landing at Poolepynten on that island (#18 on map). We are going to see a walrus haul-out this morning on a zodiac landing. John is standing in line to be on the first zodiac out (they usually have 8 zodiacs). We saw a haul-out from a distance at the 80th latitude party. But, hopefully, we will be closer to the haul-out doing a landing. The first group of passengers from 3 or 4 zodiacs will approach the walrus. How they react to us will deter-mine how close we can get. In other words, if they freak and head to the water, at least we will be in the first group to try to see them. They announced all this last night, so I have a feeling they know well how this will play out. They give the worst case scenario, but expect it to be fine. They were quite sure the walrus would be in this location. This is our final zodiac landing so I'm sure they want to end on a high point. I read when we boarded the ship last week that email would end 2 days before we return to Longyearbyen. We have about 24 hours left on board and I'm still emailing. So this may be my last email. I hope not, I would like to write about the walrus when we get back to the ship.

Just got back from seeing the walrus and still have email up and running. Apparently 95 creatures in bright yellow parkas are not enough to disturb a mid-morning nap on the beach for a couple dozen walrus. The crew set out a line in the sand so the passengers would know exactly where to stand. It was 30 meters from the walrus (I haven't done the math yet to convert it to feet.) There were a few scuffles within the group, much to the quiet delight of all of us. There was no steam rising from the gathering as the air temp was warm enough for that not to occur. It was quite a privilege to stand there observing those large lumbering animals. Lunch in a few. Gotta get in line.

Photography Walrus

This will be my last email from the ship. After our walrus encounter this morning, we sailed south into Isfiorden (the fjord where Longyearbyen is located) to a landing on the north side of the fjord in the bay of Trygghamna below the mountain, Alkhornet (#19 on map). Our hike was through lush, often times, soggy tundra and up and down steep hills. The cliffs around our land-ing site were bird colonies and we were told that reindeer frequently graze in the area. The highlight of the hike was seeing 3 beautiful reindeer close-up. It's hard to take seriously an animal with the name "reindeer". They are quite beautiful, but they have this weird black mask across their face making sort of comical looking. We hiked up, way up, to see them. Not everyone made it. I'm quite proud of myself for doing it.

Photography Reindeer

After our photo session with the reindeer, we started our walk back. Annie, one of the guides, pointed out the native willow trees now have leaves on them. In another month they will be sporting their fall colors. These trees are no more than a half-inch high. Technically they are trees, but it's hard to get excited over a fully grown tree that's less than an inch high. Speaking of trees, it has been 10 days or so since I've seen a tree or any plant that's over a few inches high. We do not have far to travel to get back to Longyearbyen (#20 & #1 on map), so will stay in the Isfjorden to-night, then finish our journey early in the morning. We will use zodiacs to get to the dock in Longyearbyen as there are not enough docks to accommodate all the ships that arrive in Longyearbyen. Tomorrow it's back to the airport run. We'll be home Friday night. I hope you enjoyed reading my emails. I en-joyed writing them. When John went to Antarctica, it was so fun for me to get his emails. When he got home, I took the emails and made a journal of his trip inserting the appropriate photos with the emails.

Thought for the day: I have heard only 3 phones ring over the past 10 days. It's probably a communication system within the ship. The phone in the bar rang once and I head a phone in the kitchen area of the dining room a couple of times. It will be back to the world of rings and beeps tomorrow!

Saturday, 07-06-2013 (at home)

John has all our photos (probably 5000 for each of us) downloading as I type this. Yes 5000 each is extreme, but MOST of them are blurry (at least for me) because we were taking most photos on zodiacs! I do have a few photos that I took on my little Canon camera. These were from our Arctic BBQ, crossing the 80 degrees north celebration (#13 on map) and hat contest on the 30th. John and I did not enter the con-test. Temperature at the BBQ was probably about 40 degrees F with a brisk wind. The day we disembarked from the ship and waited in Long-yearbyen for the airport bus, a group of high school age kids from Longyearbyen Skole (primary and secondary school) walked through the city center. One of the stu-dents, Tim, had his husky, Spot, with him. I think this might be a daily occurrence, since all of them seemed to take delight in watching dog-owning tourists, who haven’t petted a dog in many days, take turns petting Spot.

Seed Bank

Epilogue, 07-06-2013
I wished I had Googled this before we left on our trip, as this is really interesting about Longyearbyen. (I never study up where we are going until I get back.) I would have thought the name, Longyearbyen, would have something to do with the long days for 4 months in summer when the sun does not set or the long nights for 4 months in winter when the sun does not rise. No... John Longyear, an American, started the Arctic Coal Company in 1906 employing 500 hearty men. The settlement was known as Longyear City. Today it is Longyearbyen. Coal is still mined there today and the city buzzes year-round with tourists. Winter is for snowmobile tours of the tundra, exploring ice caves and viewing the Northern Lights. It is the world's northern-most town and the northernmost settlement of any kind with greater than 1,000 permanent residents.

Other interesting facts:
- All buildings in Longyearbyen are built on stilts due to permafrost
- The sun sets on Oct 25 and rises again, ever so slightly on March 8
- Residents are required to carry high powered rifles if you leave the main settlement area due to curious and hungry polar bears
- Snow mobiles far outnumber vehicles... more than 4000 registered for it’s 2000 residents
- The world’s northernmost church, ATM, post office, museum, airport and university are located in Long-yearbyen
- Longyearbyen is home to one of the Global Seed Vaults in the world, where seeds from around the world are held in an underground cave. Over 400,000 seeds are frozen at Zero degrees F. (minus 18 degrees C.) in case of a large scale regional or global crisis

And finally, remember John’s photo of the reindeer won the first "Photo of the Day”? That photo won “Photo of the Voyage”. The prize was a DVD with a 1000 images of the Svalbard region taken over several years by one of the Zodiac drivers, Vladimir Seliverstov. John remembered Vlad from his trip to Antarctica in 2010. Gorgeous photos!

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Part 1: Journey to the Arctic with Janet & John Tangney

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Janet & John Tangney have been married for almost 41 years and live in Oregon. John's full time job is writing Computer Aided Design software, and Janet was previously a pre-school teacher and substitute teacher for high school special education class. While John is a photo enthusiast, Janet also enjoys the hobby. They primarily go to National Parks in the USA on their travels, and love the Northwest. John had previously gotten to go to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions, and hopes to be able to return to there with Janet in a couple of years. They have a website, www.pbase.com/jctangney where they post photos for all to view and enjoy.

Janet & John Tangney embarked on Quark's 11 day Spitsbergen Explorer, Wildlife Capital of the Arctic. This Arctic paradise is perfect for first-time visitors. Below is Part 1 of the their exciting journey!

Sea Spirit Arctic

Monday, 06-24-2013

We arrived in Longyearbyen at 2pm and had a couple of hours to explore the town before boarding the Sea Spirit around 4pm. Longyearbyen (#1 on blue map), lies within Isfjorden, the second longest fjord in the archipelago (group of islands) of Svalbard. Spitsbergen is the largest of those islands and is the only permanently populated island in the archipelago. Isfjorden is roughly in the center of Spitsbergen, and a portion of it is within the boundaries of Nordre Isfjorden Land National Park. Before dinner we had a life boat drill wearing life jackets. Then came our first dinner in the dining room. We sailed from Longyearbyen sometime after midnight.

John Tangney Zodiac Arctic Arctic photography

Tuesday, 06-25-2013
Just got our email set up. We've had our safety orientation on land-ings and should be doing our first zodiac landing this afternoon. We sailed south all night from Longyearbyen, now sailing east into Hornsund Fjord (#2 on map), the most southerly fjord in Svalbard. The plan is to zodiac into Burgerbukta Bay (#3 on map) where the 2 arms of the bay each end in glaciers, each about 2km wide. We’ll look for wildlife and see glaciers. Since a polar bear was seen at lunch swimming in Burgerbukta Bay, it was decided we would do a zodiac cruise instead of a landing. We saw that same bear a few times as he continued to paddle up into the bay. We saw another polar bear on land and a bearded seal in the water, plus Kittiwakes on an iceberg while on the cruise. Finally that first swimming polar bear climbed out of the water in front of a glacier, where he kept a wary eye on us.

We turned around and headed back to the ship, not wanting to harass the bear any longer. Some of the passengers expressed unhappiness that we did not get closer to the polar bear, like in Churchill Canada, where John went on the Tundra Buggies. In Churchill, the bears are gather in late fall waiting for the sea ice to start forming (which is earlier there than most anywhere else in the Arctic) so they can get out on it to hunt for seals from the sea ice. So the bears are closer together in Churchill and you can see them close up. This area is typical of how polar bears spend most of the months of their lives, on the sea ice, looking for seals swimming just below the ice. The Quark guides try to get us as close as possible to see bears, but from experience, they make a judgment on how close they can approach in a given situation so as to avoid disturbing the bear or changing its natural behavior. I am glad that they did not get so close that we would have disturbed the bear!

Arctic Polar Bear Bearded Seal

Wednesday 06-26-2013
It’s sunny today and very cold as I write this from outside on the back deck on my iPad. I think it's in the high 30s but that only an estimate and it’s quite windy. They announced earlier that it was 4 degrees and everything is in that foreign language, metric. During the night we round-ed the southern tip of Spitsbergen and are now headed north through Storfjorden (means great fjord). Storfjorden (#4 on map) separates the island of Spitsbergen on the west from Edgeoya and Barentsoya to the east. We will look for bands of sea ice and hopefully polar bears and seals on the ice. A polar bear was spotted on the ice lying down. It was at a good distance, but once he stood up and started walking, he was still very recognizable without binoculars or a telephoto lens. We then spotted a bearded seal sunning himself (herself?) on the sea ice.

Bearded Seal on ice Polar Bear

The polar bear, still walking, walked “behind” the seal from our viewpoint., but he was still at some distance from the seal and neither seemed concerned about the other. We usually ate lunch on the deck. They served hamburgers or chicken burgers and a dessert. On sunny days, like today, it was just nice to be outside for lunch. We continued to watch the same polar bear walking across the sea ice. He slipped in the water and then climbed out and shook off the water. The setting was iconic with the bear on sea ice that is breaking up now that it is summer. In the afternoon, we sailed to Dolerittneset (#5 on map) on the northwest corner of the island of Edgeoya for a zodiac landing. It is named for the dark, dolerite (balsaltic) rock along the steep cliffs. The huts on the shore are remnants of the 18th century Russian and Norwegian whalers and hunters. Along part of the shore, walrus bones are scattered, a sad reminder of their slaughter over 3 centuries.

Walrus Arctic Tern

We did not do a landing because there was information there is a sick or injured polar bear hanging around that region. We saw a group of male walruses hauled out on the beach. Our group of 9 zodiac boats were all lined up about 50 feet from shore where they were sunning themselves. Zodiacs mostly travel together in pairs so as not to disturb wildlife, if possible. But this group of 6 males didn't seem to care how many boats were passing beside them. One of them turned over to scratch himself with a flipper and that was about it for movement from the group. Another one appeared to use his long tusks as a prop for his head to rest on. His tusks were stuck straight down in the sand and his eyes were shut. We also saw reindeer, a few in the distance along the mountain sides. One reindeer was much closer and once he saw us, he seemed to follow the zodiacs as much as he could, posing and prancing quite nicely in perfect settings. No disrespect intended, but this reindeer looked like a clown, with those huge black eyes. Also photographed arctic terns.

I have finally mastered using my huge yellow parka. It's heavy and cumbersome, but I seem on top of it now, actually zipping, snapping and velcrowing the various parts together before I go outside instead of freezing while trying to do these things once I am outside. John is at a polar photography discussion tonight and I'm off to bed. We will sail over night into the Freemansun-det (Freeman Strait) which separates the islands of Edgeoya and Barentsoya . In the afternoon, we sailed to Dolerittneset (#5 on map) on the northwest corner of the island of Edgeoya for a zodiac landing. It is named for the dark, dolerite (balsaltic) rock along the steep cliffs. The huts on the shore are remnants of the 18th century Russian and Norwegian whalers and hunters. Along part of the shore, walrus bones are scattered, a sad reminder of their slaughter over 3 centuries.

Yellow Parka

Thursday, 06-27-2013
Yesterday we landed on the north-west corner of the island of Edgeoya. Today we are sailing in the Freemansundet (Freeman Strait) which separates Edgeoya and the island of Barentsoya. The strait is only 6 km wide, and can be blocked by ice late into summer. Barentsoya is the 4th largest island in Svalbard. We will first land at Sundneset (#6 on map), which means sound point, on the south-west corner of Barentsoya and hike through the “rich tundra”. The Arctic gets very little precipita-tion, so it is a desert. Wildflowers are blooming now and no plant is more an 2 or 3 inches tall and yet they can be hundreds of years old. We saw polar bear prints by the river and assorted antlers and skulls of reindeer and a few rein-deer higher up on the hillsides. We were among the first to make our way down to the zodiacs after seeing the bird colony to head back to the ship. For John, Kittiwakes are definitely are not in the category of large male mammals.

Kittiwakes Kittiwakes

The wind had picked up after we landed, so now the guides were strug-gling just to hang onto the zodiac as the waves pounded the shore. While all landings are planned to be wet landings, this would be considered a soaking wet landing. Getting through the surf in the zodiac was interesting. Waves hit the zodiac from the side drenching everyone. Back to the ship for lunch as we sail a short distance to another landing on Barentsoya (#7 on map). There we will see a huge colony of nesting Kittiwakes. They looked like standard sea gulls to me. These birds spend the most of the year at sea, mostly around Europe, but fly here in the summer to make more Kittiwakes. The ship had moved in the meantime so the zodiacs could face the waves going forward instead of from the side. All in a day's work for these guides. But I got some interesting photos of the crew's struggle to keep the zodiac in place to get the passengers inside. It was a definite E-ticket ride today. After our zodiac left, the other zodiac drivers moved the site a short distance to anoth-er landing site which wasn't quite so wild.

Zodiac Zodiac

Friday, 06-28-2013
We will not do any zodiac trips today. We are sailing northeast of Barentsoya Island (#8 on map) around the sea ice and small icebergs, looking for polar bears, walrus, seals and sea birds. We will sail east toward as far as Kong Karls Land (King Charles Land) before turning around and heading back through the Freemansundet (Freeman Strait). Kong Karls Land (#9 on map) is an island group (of 5 islands) within the Svalbard Archipela-go. These islands, which have the largest concentration of polar bears in Svalbard, are part of the Nordaust-Svalbard Nature Reserve. There is a ban on all traffic to these islands, including up to 500 meters away from shore and 500 meters above land, to protect sensitive polar bear denning areas. We had dinner two nights ago with two very interesting passengers. One of them is an executive producer of National Geographic TV. She's British but currently lives in Washington DC. And the other is her husband who is a producer for BBC nature documentaries such as Frozen Planet. She expressed some interesting in staying in contact after looking at some of his photos. John is quite pleased with that development.

Iceberg Iceberg

We had 2 excellent talks by the expedition team today. One was about glaciers and the other about grizzly bears in British Columbia. Speaking of photos they have a computer on board for the pas-sengers to put photos they have taken during the trip. Not many people had put photos on yet (John is excluded from that state-ment). To encourage people to add photos there will be a "Photo of the Day". So for the 4 previous days, John's photo of a rein-deer was picked as the “Photo of the Day" and posted on the monitor where the next day's agenda is posted. Needless to say, he is quite happy. In all fairness, it was an accomplishment to get a non-blurry photo of the reindeer as we were in a zodiac at the time plus using a lens that did not have vibration reduction on it.

 

Photo of the day Reindeer Photo of the day

 

Check out Part 2 of Janet & John's journey!

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The Top 5 Reasons to add Antarctica to your bucket list!

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1. Be one of only a few people to Step foot on the 7th continent

Antarctica Hike

2. Enjoy zodiac cruising and get up close to 400 year old icebergs

Zodiac Antarctica

3. Visit historical landing sites, including the Scott Research Centre

Antarctica King Penguin

4. Marvel at thousands of King Penguins and encounter up to 13 other penguin species

Antarctica Sea Spirit Penguins

5. Cross the Arctic Circle and travel furthest south on the planet

 

Undoubtedly Antarctica is one of the most awe-inspiring destinations in the world! For more information on our amazing Expeditions check out: Antarctica Cruises and Travel

 

 

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Life Aboard the Sea Spirit

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Currently aboard the Spitsbergen Voyage, we have a special program with the Chinese Arctic Youth Group, that is incorporated by Quark's GSA Amazing Cruises and Travel.

Annie Inglis, Expedition Co-ordinator, has sent us an update from the Sea Spirit:

Spitsbergen Explorer – 28th July to 4th August, 2013

 

xPolar-Bear.Antarctic-600x410.jpg.pagespeed.ic.1vC7DmWlX2

Photo courtesy of passenger slideshow Spitsbergen voyage June 24th 2013

Our very excited students boarded the Sea Spirit in Longyearbyen on 28th July for their much anticipated expedition in Svalbard. The Expedition staff and ship’s crew were very pleased to see them and welcome them to their new home, for the next 7 days.

We travelled up the west coast of Spitsbergen and, fortunately, the sea was fairly calm so everyone was up and about. All students attended two essential presentations in the morning, one covering Safety On Land (and caring for the environment) and another was Safety on Zodiacs.

In the afternoon of 29th July, we had our first excursion, landing at a place called Texas Bar. Here, we found a polar bear which had died in the last few weeks. It was fascinating to be able to get close to huge bear and see it in great detail. The students began parts of their science work, collecting rocks, examining moraine, identifying plants and water sampling. After returning to the ship, we moved to Monaco glacier and then all went out on the zodiacs again to cruise near the glacial face. Some saw seals and a calving whist everyone saw thousands of birds and beautiful blue ice.

The next day we ventured to the sea ice, in the far north, above 81 degrees North. Here we were surrounded by the sea ice and a truly wonderful Arctic scene. It was a perfect environment for polar bears for which we searched all day.

Wow!! What an amazing day on the 31st July for the expeditioners aboard the Sea Spirit. This morning we ventured out in the zodiacs to explore the ethereal basalt cliffs of Alkefjellet, in the Hinlopen Strait. As we drew close we were absorbed into the cacophony of sound and ceaseless movement of several hundred thousand birds, mostly Brunnich’s guillemots. The sky swarmed with birds, many with small fish in their beaks, and the cliffs were crammed with guillemots closely guarding their young chicks. Returning to the ship, many commented how quiet it seemed after all the noise of the colony (despite all the excited chatter of 75 school children!)

As we made our passage northwards after lunch, and just after crossing 80o North again, we saw huge columnar whale blows ahead. The expedition staff were thrilled to announce the extremely rare sighting of a blue whale. Then, over the course of an hour or more, there were no less than 6 of these magnificent animals, the largest on the planet. It was breathtaking to watch these mammals feeding, showing their flukes and turning towards us. Their blows were heard from the ship and the mottled blue colour of their 30m body seen clearly seen. We felt incredibly privileged to have observed these creatures.

Coming into our afternoon landing site, sharp eyes spotted one polar bear, then a second, on the hills beyond our landing. We watched from a distance and then landed on the other side of the bay at Sorgfjorden. It was here that a short battle between two French war ships and a fleet of Dutch whaling ships was fought. Whilst wandering on the site, walruses in the water were spotted, carefully watching us from a distance.

It was a tired but happy group that returned to the ship – the special ice cream buffet was well-earned. There was much high-spirited talking in the lounge, amongst new friends and old, late into the evening. A fantastic day!

The following day, 1st August, we brought the ship into Smeerenburg fjord in the far north west of Spitsbergen. Here, we zodiac cruised some of the historic areas, dating back to the 16th century where whaling was undertaken. Lots of harbour seals were found, balancing on rocks close to shore. Towards the end of the excursion a polar bear was found and a few lucky students got a great view. The wind and waves increased a little and our guests were pleased to have their new Quark waterproof jackets to keep them warm and dry. The afternoon saw us in Fuglefjord where, after seeing 2 polar bears on the way, we found a polar bear resting on an island. We all had an incredible experience on the zodiacs, watching this relaxed bear that seemed to be just as interested in us. It was healthy and fat and may have been a male. It walked over the rocks, very close to the water, and we observed its behaviour. It was very close to us and we were all very excited to see it and watch it for over an hour and a half. We left it undisturbed when we finally returned to the ship. Probably thousands of photos were taken during the afternoon – and many very good ones too!

The evening saw the ship reposition to Magdalenefjord where we enjoyed a wonderful and tasty Arctic barbecue, outside on the deck. Many of us made some crazy hats to wear and then later we enjoyed a few games in the lounge – including some team events. A lot of laughter and fun was had by all.

Tomorrow will see us looking for puffins, the clowns of the bird world, and then we will visit Ny Alesund where the Chinese Research Station, Yellow River, is located. Everyone is looking forward to this visit.

The students have been fantastic to have onboard the Sea Spirit. The Expedition Team have enjoyed their enthusiasm and knowledge. They have been happy and friendly and are a credit to their families, schools and country.

 

Best regards from the Sea Spirit team.

Annie Inglis

Expedition Co-ordinator

Quark aboard the Sea Spirit

 

 

 

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Spitsbergen Expedition - Voyage Update!

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Wow!! What an amazing day for the expeditioners aboard the Sea Spirit. This morning we ventured out in the zodiacs to explore the ethereal basalt cliffs of Alkefjellet, in the Hinlopen Strait. As we drew close we were absorbed into the cacophony of sound and ceaseless movement of several hundred thousand birds, mostly Brunnich’s guillemots. The sky swarmed with birds, many with small fish in their beaks, and the cliffs were crammed with guillemots closely guarding their young chicks. Returning to the ship, many commented how quiet it seemed after all the noise of the colony (despite all the excited chatter of 75 school children!)

xSea-Spirit--600x450.jpg.pagespeed.ic.IPhKC1WwMP

As we made our passage northwards after lunch, and just after crossing 80o North again, we saw huge columnar whale blows ahead. The expedition staff were thrilled to announce the extremely rare sighting of a blue whale. Then, over the course of an hour or more, there were no less than 6 of these magnificent animals, the largest on the planet. It was breathtaking to watch these mammals feeding, showing their flukes and turning towards us. Their blows were heard from the ship and the mottled blue colour of their 30m body seen clearly seen. We felt incredibly privileged to have observed these creatures.

Coming into our afternoon landing site, sharp eyes spotted one polar bear, then a second, on the hills beyond our landing. We watched from a distance and then landed on the other side of the bay at Sorgfjorden. It was here that a short battle between two French war ships and a fleet of Dutch whaling ships was fought. Whilst wandering on the site, walruses in the water were spotted, carefully watching us from a distance.

It was a tired but happy group that returned to the ship – the special ice cream buffet was well-earned. There was much high-spirited talking in the lounge, amongst new friends and old, late into the evening. A fantastic day!

 

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