Magdalena Bay, Spitsbergen

Jun 26, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

The first day of our expedition was an incredible beginning. At around 6:30 a.m., National Geographic Explorer headed to the edge of the pack ice, just shy of 80° north. As we reached the edge, we spotted a whale blow—a bowhead, the rarest whale in these waters! Most of the staff haven’t even seen them up here, so it was an incredible privilege to see such a rare animal happily feeding only a couple of hundred meters from us.

We had several briefings to attend to prepare for the trip ahead. The afternoon was going to include Zodiac cruises through the loose pack ice, but just as we were ready to begin dropping boats, the fog rolled in! Fog is very dangerous up here. We all carry GPS units in order to return to the ship in case the fog appears suddenly, but thick fog in which polar bears can sneak up on you is exceptionally dangerous. Instead, the ship cruised a little to the south and found that Magdalena Bay was clear. We dropped Zodiacs and all enjoyed cruises to see a nearby glacier and a haul-out site where walrus were resting on the beach or cooling off in the water.

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About the Author

Peter Webster

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

Born in Scotland, Peter became fascinated with nature and wildlife from a very young age. This early interest led to him earning a degree in conservation biology followed shortly after by an M.Sc in marine and fisheries ecology. He is currently studying for another M.Sc in digital mapping. After working as a commercial diver for several years Peter was offered the position of Field Diving Officer with the British Antarctic Survey in 2012. He then spent the next 16 months in the Antarctic, stationed at Rothera Research Station, on the peninsula where he managed the dive operations and a team of scientific divers working on a wide range of research on climate change, ocean acidification, and increased seabed disturbance by icebergs. As well as diving Peter also spent several months in the Antarctic deep field working in aircraft operations, depot laying, and meteorological work whilst living in tents in conditions below -30oC. 

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