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The first to arrive in the east

It was late May when we boarded our expedition ship Freya, the earliest summer days in Svalbard. Traveling this early in the season meant we would meet few other ships, see lots of fjord ice and find late winter snow on the shores and hill slopes. As many birds were on their way north, we sailed toward landscapes that were waking up from winter. 

Fjord cruise toward walruses and polar bears 

After the briefings, a safety tour and dinner, we set sail towards the pack ice. On route, we passed Poolepynten, where the first of many walruses were spotted. After a few hours of scanning the ice, we also spotted the first polar bear. It was curious, young, and male. Leaving the ship parked in the ice, the bear came to check us out from all different angles. What an incredible second day; this trip was already memorable! 

We stayed there, parked in the ice, overnight. When we woke in the morning, a dense fog blocked our view. So, we decided to cruise south through the fjords, as the way east was still closed off by pack ice. Smeerenburg Fjorden and Hornsund gave us splendid views, perfect mirror-like reflections and stunning landscapes. When we arrived south, the path towards east Svalbard opened. We tried our luck and were successful!

Seals on the ice floes, whales around the ship

The Freya was the first ship to arrive at east Svalbard in 2022. Upon arrival on the east side of Edgeoya, a mother bear and her two newborn cubs were waiting for us at the edge of the fjord ice. They spent the whole day wandering around the ship! Hunting, sleeping, playing, resting, nursing, … We hit the jackpot with this impressive trinity! 

The wind was picking up, the ice was closing in, and the weather forced us to go back west. In Storfjorden, we were greeted by young bearded and harp seals resting on the ice floes. We cruised our way northwest through the fjords again, enjoying more bears on the ice, stunning scenery, and close-up encounters with walruses. Dramatic glaciers and excellent weather were our backdrops. I particularly remember us cruising past Hornsund, enjoying the midnight sun from the 45°C hot tub on deck, when suddenly whales popped up everywhere around the ship! We were greeted by several pods of different species: humpbacks, minke whales, a fin whale, and in the far distance a blue whale. Image this under a low sun, on a silky-smooth sea, with a beer in one hand and a camera in the other … Pure Magic!

A trip with no rush

On the pack ice, we found a colossal female bear feasting on an old seal carcass. After seeing a skinny female with 2 cubs in Smeerenburg the day before, it was a delight to see that some bears are still in great shape and able to get as fat as possible for the long summer months ahead. We had a super close encounter with an enigmatic Ivory gull sitting on the left-over skin from the seal. They are a mythical species, known to stalk bears and feast on their kills. An ecological symbiosis I read about in the books, I was now witnessing at +80°N! 

We followed the pack ice down to northeast Svalbard and cruised back in the southern direction. We went on beautiful hikes, walking towards bird and walrus colonies. The zodiac brought us in front of glaciers and between icebergs filled with birdlife, seals and 2 more bears. 

After 15 days and a stunning total of 12 bear sightings, our trip came to an end. We all agreed this extended trip had given us time to explore areas further away, spend more time close to the animals and explore more landscapes, waiting for the perfect light. This was a trip with no rush, filled with beautiful moments to capture, unbelievable scenery and unique Arctic wildlife. 

Thank you Svalbard, thank you Freya & its crew, and thank you to all our guests for having been part of this unforgettable adventure!  

Image gallery
Snow bear


Pieter-Jan is a biodiversity and ecology expert and an experienced nature photographer. In 2013, he attended UNIS - the University Centre of Svalbard - for seven months and lost his heart to the Arctic. His career as a travel and photography guide started that same year and has expanded ever since, bringing him to many beautiful parts of the world.

An illuminating guide, Pieter-Jan loves to share his knowledge and engage you in an unforgettable adventure. Be ready to witness nature's wildest treasures up close, whether on land or at sea!

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