Coke & Som Smith Photography & Travelogue

Expedition to Svalbard: 81 Degrees North!

Visit our Arctic Svalbard Image Galleries!

Be sure to visit our other Photo Galleries for more spectacular images of our travels! (Pbase Galleries)


Svalbard (Spitsbergen)

One of the world’s great arctic wildernesses, Svalbard offers unparalleled arctic wildlife viewing.  With hunting stopped now decades ago, many populations of the island group’s fauna are recovering (with perhaps the only exception being the Northern Right whales, which do no appear to be rebounding at all).  We spent two full weeks circumnavigating the islands with Oceanwide Expeditions, who I would recommend completely.  They have a strong eco-ethic and know their destinations very well.  Their naturalists are knowledgeable and experienced.

We spent over two weeks circumnavigating this arctic wilderness.  We explored the remote outpost towns of Ny Alesund and Longyearben.  Life aboard the boat was a great experience.  While the digs were not as plush are the Russian Far East cruise on the Marina Tsvetaeva, a few weeks earlier, we had adequate space to relax.  Our fellow travelers were a mixture of Americans, Italians and a few various other Europeans, all of whom loved Cokie.  We had a fantastic trip that allowed us to see all species of birds and mammals we set out to see. And our expedition leaders were adventurous enough to take us nearly to the 81st parallel and even all the way out to Kvitoya Island! 

Eco-cruises do have their negative aspects as well however.  You are constantly under the control of generally overly cautious guides who are constantly herding the travelers.  While safey is certainly a concern in Polar Bear country, I felt more than once that my experience was being compromised by overly cautious guides.  I generally ignored them to a degree that would not get me banned from future landings.

Aside from the truly unparalleled scenery, we were able to see every single species of bird the region claims.  We were also able to see all the mammals except for the one rodent species present.  The Svalbard subspecies of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhunchus) were seen in a number of locations and were spectacular and very interesting with their“stunted”, Allen’s Rule-stature.  We witnessed good numbers of Svalbard polar foxes (Alopes (=Vulpes) lagopus spitsbergensis) in both blue and winter phases at close ranges.  We watched a family pack hunt barnacle geese successfully at NyAlesund.  All other mammals were marine ranging form several herds of Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus), bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus), fin whales (Baleanoptera physalus), Sei whale (Baleanoptera borealis) Atlantic humpback and sperm whales.  We missed the belugas that the region is famous for sadly.  But there is little doubt that the mammalian highpoints for the trip were the several quality sightings of polar bear.  In zodiacs we were able to get very close indeed to the many solitary individuals we saw.  In all we viewed at least thirteen bears in the two weeks there, but this is supposedly a very low number which may have been due to the lateness in the season (mid August) and/or the unprecedented distance of any pack ice (300 miles further north than had ever been documented before!).


Here are some images of our amazing expedition to Svalbard!

(Be sure to also check out our Svalbard Image Galleries)

The typical Longyearben house, priced at well over 400K!  Interestingly, the most common minority on the island are Thai.  Thailand was a signatory to the Treaty of Spitsbergen, and therefore Thai citizens are entitled to live there!


Having a little fun on our boat!


Cokie getting a lift through some glacial melt waters.


My first wild Polar Bear scratching his back in a well-used rock.


This one is sniffing in our direction to see if we are worth the swim (we are about ten meters away in a zodiac when we took this image).


Hmm....they do smell good...


Thank goodness for ten meters of water!


A couple Atlantic Walruses singing barbershop!


We came across several herds of Atlantic Walruses while in the far north-east regions of Svalbard.



This Bearded Seal shadowed our zodiac for hundreds of meters.


Svalbard Caribou were commonly seen.  They are classic examples of Allen's Rule which dictates small appendages and more massive body cores.


This curious Svalbard Polar Fox was seen with its fur changing from blue to its winter white. We were their on the final days of fall and winter hit with a punch on our last day there.


This Polar Fox just killed a Barncacle Goose right in front of us!


We caught the last of the rookeries of the various alcids as the seasons were changing extremely quickly.  These Atlantic Puffins were here one day and then the next day, the entire rookery was completely vacant!  We lucked out!


  Northern Fulmar were the omnipresent bird the entire summer where ever we traveled.


Cokie playing zodiac with our expedition leader!


Two days before we arrived, a glacier calved and swamped the entire ship with a massive tidal wave, injuring dozens of travelers!


One of the many retreating glaciers seen in Svalbard.  No global warming...right...


Zodiac cruises were a daily event.  Cruising the amazing ice-filled bays was always fun and we never knew what we would see around the next bend.


Cokie initially thought this place was awesome, but when I told him that it was a walrus-slaughter graveyard, his facial expression changed dramatically.


Cokie on Polar Bear watch!


Svalbard Caribou antlers in good light.


 Cokie, Som and our friend and guide, Delphine, posing in front of a distant herd of Walruses.  What a great morning!


The Smith family on bow while cruising through a massive ice flow on the east coast of Svalbard.


Cokie on lookout for icebergs!  He thought this was just like the Titanic!


The ship threw Cokie a huge birthday party on August 16, 2007 - his 5th!  He was completely shocked and it took some convincing just to make him believe that it was all for him!


This flare was the only candle the crew could find!



Svalbard Mammal List

  1. Svalbard Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhunchus)                     30+
  2. Svalbard Polar Foxes (Alopes (=Vulpes) lagopus spitsbergensis)         4
  3. Atlantic Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus)                            40+
  4. Bearded Seals (Erignathus barbatus)                                           10+
  5. Fin Whale (Baleanoptera physalus)                                               2
  6. Sei Whale (Baleanoptera borealis)                                                1
  7. Atlantic Humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae)                                 1
  8. Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus)                                                     13

Svalbard Bird List

  1. Black Guillemot
  2. Arctic Skua
  3. Dunlin
  4. Arctic Tern
  5. Purple Sandpiper
  6. Northern Fulmar
  7. Atlantic Puffin
  8. Little Auk
  9. Barnacle Goose
  10. Brunnich’s Guillemot
  11. Snow Bunting
  12. Brent Goose
  13. Great Skua
  14. Ivory Gull
  15. Pomarine Jaeger
  16. Long-tailed Duck
  17. Red-throated Loon
  18. Grey Phalarope
  19. Ringed Plover
  20. Pink-footed Goose
  21. Rock Ptarmigan


Visit our Arctic Svalbard Image Galleries!

Be sure to visit our other Photo Galleries for more spectacular images of our travels! (Pbase Galleries)