the high arctic
For a few short months of the year, winter loosens its grip on the most extreme latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, and allows a stunning diversity of arctic life to flourish. Whales and seabirds travel thousands of miles to reap the high arctic’s summer feast of schooling fish and krill. Millions of tiny insects emerge from the ground as snow banks recede, and dense mats of moss-campion and arctic saxifrage blanket the rugged tundra. A staggering abundance of summer life is the norm.
We encountered this (Erignathus barbatus) hauled out on an ice floe while scouting out potential landing sites in Palanderbukta, Svalbard. It’s not uncommon to see seals skulking around near the tidewater faces of large glaciers, as frequent calving events can shock and stun their marine prey.
A polar bear takes a break from hunting seals to investigate the zodiac. The scars on his face and nose hint at some run-ins with other males.
A walrus cow keeps a close eye on her curious calf. Despite a growing tourism industry in Svalbard, walrus still associate humans with danger and will take flight at a moments notice.
A zodiac cruise along the tortured-looking glacier face at Wahlenbergfjord provides ample opportunities to marvel at the diversity of ice.
"In the misty peaks far overhead, the silhouettes of several thousand black-legged kittiwake can just be made out. Dense colonies of these birds, always in the rockiest and most inaccessible areas, are like beacons to predators, and a few of us glimpse an arctic fox, sooty brown in its summer coat, skirting between boulders below. In a few weeks time, kittiwake chicks will be leaving the nests — foxes must be cunning hunters if they are to feed their dozen-or-so hungry pups! Far below the colony, the ground is lush and green, fertilized all summer long by the droppings of the birds above. Reindeer are well-camouflaged against the rocks and lichen, though we make out several before heading to the glacier. We spend the final moments of our excursion surrounded by icebergs, and enjoy the atmosphere of this incredible place."
— Journal Entry, 7.19.17 Fjortende Julibreen, Svalbard
Arctic travel has become more possible than ever as annual temperatures steadily rise — fjords and channels once choked with sea ice are now open throughout much of the year. These changes are felt not only by the region’s rich wildlife, but also the four million or so human inhabitants living above the Arctic Circle.