The first of August was the first official day of my sabbatical. One year no teaching but working for Oceanwide Expeditions in both the Arctic and, hopefully, the Antarctic. Something I have been thinking about for years and last year decided to take the step. A year doing something completely different, but also a year to see what a life as a guide would look like. And if I like it… Well, who knows next year…
So August first was quite special for me. The first full day of the cruise onboard Plancius was spent in Kongsfjord. In the morning we had a landing in Ny Ålesund, the settlement where I have done my research in my first years on Spitsbergen. It always feels a bit like a homecoming and a landing I always like, especially in the awesome weather of today. The only problem with the weather was the temperature. 14°C is far too warm for Arctic expedition guides…

Polar Bear mother and cub

In the afternoon we were cruising along the large glaciers at the inner fjord. A good moment to try my new binoculars. The icebergs in front of glaciers like that often attract Bearded Seals, who in turn attract Polar Bears. And two weeks ago we had a mother and cub nearby… I was walking around, talking to people, scanning the ice flows and the shoreline with my binoc….. Wait… Isn’t that… Yes!! YES!! A quick call to the expeditions leader (EL): I’ve got a mother and cub at 2 o’clock of the ship!! Not really far away and quite easy to find for most guests. The EL quickly made the decision to put the zodiacs into the water to make a zodiac cruise, hopefully near the bears. No one could imagine it would go this well… After climbing a hill they came back to the shore, which they followed for quite a while. We, of course, did the same, not far away from the bears. Mother bear, who unfortunately was satellite collared, was quite relaxed with all this and allowed her cub to wander off a little. The cub enjoyed this freedom and started swimming a little, played with some kelp and had a good look at those funny black things in the water. For most of the guests this was their first Polar Bear ever, and they couldn’t have wished for a better one.

After a while, we decided to leave the bear and let her continue her search for food. It was a really great experience to be able to observe a mother and cub from nearby who weren’t bothered by us at all. I don’t know how many bears I’ve seen, but encounters like this are always special.
After this we had a short landing at Blomstrandhalvøya, which is always a nice place for a first proper landing. In the evening I could look back at a great first day of my sabbatical. If this is a measure for the rest of the year, I doubt I’ll go back to teaching….

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

One comment

  • Hey Arjen, it’s great to hear that you are taking a Sabbatical. Enjoy the ride! Maybe we run into each other in Longyearbyen again next year. 🙂


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