Despite the fact I’ve been home more than a week I am still feeling a sense of elation as I look through my Svalbard images recalling some of the moments I experienced aboard the MS Freyer.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to prove it’s not a dream. After all, visiting the arctic has been a lifelong goal of mine. The journey was arduous: Toronto – Copenhagen – Oslo – Longyearbyen –  but the resulting adventure makes it all worthwhile. 

Once aboard the Freyer we sailed to the northwestern tip of Spitzbergen, the largest of the islands that make up Svalbard.  We explored fjords that provided shelter from the winds and the not so gentle Greenland Sea. I was reminded that it is open sea between the east coast of Greenland and Svalbard. 

One of my fellow seafarers was kind enough to take a picture of me with this incredible glacier in the background.

Each fjord was spectacular. ‘Fast ice’ which is affixed to the land provided haven for all sorts of wildlife and nearly everyone had binoculars trained on the shore – as well as the sea ice. Polar bear sightings were, naturally, the most valued and we were reminded that it’s a privilege to see this amazing animal. Many arctic visitors are not so lucky.

Our guide, Fred, spotted an adult male searching the seal holes near a glacier. The fast ice kept us at a distance but he predicted the bear might venture into the next fjord. So we sailed around and waited.  Knowledgable guides are essential and when the bear eventually arrived at our location, walking across the sea ice in search of seals, I felt compelled to fist bump Fred.

The sun went behind a mountain temporarily and I snapped this image just as a walrus peeked up at the bear. Although polar bears will sometimes attack walruses it is a much more difficult fight than with a seal. The skin of a walrus is almost impenetrable.

Arctic foxes are generally white during the winter which offers camouflage against their surroundings. They change colour in the summer. But there are also some that have a mutant gene which leaves them brown year round.  They make up less than 3% of the population and are apparently rarely seen. We saw at least three. 

Often we would see bear tracks accompanied by those of a fox. And we would eventually see a bear kill a seal. Within minutes two foxes appeared. They would enjoy the scraps.

Even with 24 hour daylight there were moments of spectacular contrasts and I spent considerable time alone on the deck enjoying the view of the mountains. They are part of the Caledonian orogeny – a chain that spans Scotland, Greenland, Scandinavia and of course Svalbard.

There was a storm moving in on our last night at sea and the skies darkened temporarily. As you can see, the water within this fjord was perfectly calm.


A journey through an extraordinary place which has produced some fantastic memories. Thanks for reading!




  1. Patricia Bruce

    Paul: It’s with great pleasure to read about your adventure. Sure sounds like an very awesome trip.
    Thanks again for your wonderful photography and your story about your trip.

      1. Barbara Cove

        Thank you for sharing this incredible experience and beautiful photography with us Paul. So happy for you that you made this dream of photographing polar bears in their natural habitat come true. Must have been exquisite.

  2. Jerry Kooymans

    Great photos, Paul. Seeing polar bears in the wild is one of life’s unforgettable experiences. I was in awe of the ones I saw in Churchill. My son visited Svalbard several years ago, and he just loved it.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hey Jerry, great to hear from you. Yes, seeing polar bears in the wild is special…spending time in the true arctic with those mountains made it even more so. I am sure Robin showed you some magical images of Svalbard. The impact this expedition has had on me is incredible.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Pleased that you liked the post. And although I hesitate to compare trips this one was right up there with my most memorable. Being in the arctic was special and to encounter these magificent animals was incredible!

  3. Lyn Barrett-Cowan

    When I see your name in my email list I know I will be treated to extraordinarily beautiful photos and a great story to go with them. This arctic piece is no exception. Thanks for sharing your talent and expertise.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hey Lyn, thanks for your beautiful comment! I enjoy sharing my experiences in the hope that others are inspired to seek time with nature. Its a wonderful world with lots to be thankful for!

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hey Rachel, great to hear from you and yes, Svalbard was an incredible place to experience. A long journey to get there but it’s the high arctic and seeing mountains, glaciers and unique wildlife was the experience of a lifetime. And..congrats on your 3rd place in Ottawa!!!!!

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