Beluga whales and polar bears among the sights of Franz Josef Land

Continuing his expedition to the Russian archipelago of Franz Josef Land as described in previous blog posts, John embarked on yet more exciting Arctic wildlife viewing on the fifth day of his trip. Here is a rundown of what he saw – and you can enjoy similar experiences when you book Arctic trips with WILDFOOT.

Day 5

Taken ashore after a medical emergency

The first Sunday of my trip started slowly but turned out quite busy. We woke up in the same place offshore from the Russian base, when we had expected to be some five hours away. It emerged that one of the crew had been in a medical emergency serious enough to require an operation (an appendectomy, we later found out), which couldn’t be properly conducted onboard. So, he was taken ashore to the Russian base hospital where our doctor – aided by one of the Swiss passengers, who is a practising surgeon – and a military team undertook a successful procedure. He later returned back on board to recuperate.

That meant we didn’t set off until after breakfast – which in turn, meant that our first Zodiac excursions were delayed. We had a great talk from one of the Russian guides, who had worked three of the short seasons at the Barneo camp at the North Pole. We got some great shots of the airstrip being prepared, the supplies being dropped and the aircraft themselves, as well as all of the other mundane events, like the marathon, weddings and polar golf!

Abundant wildlife that we enjoyed seeing in the Arctic

We enjoyed the bright sunshine and had lunch out on deck and then, before we reached our planned destination, right on the other side of Alexandra Land, we came across a large pod of beluga whales;  the captain reckoned they were staying around, so we should go out in the Zodiacs to try to get closer.

We were a bit doubtful ‘cos it was about half an hour or so before the boats were launched and we were at sea and predictably, they were long gone, however, there was a big bonus – our first polar bear was there posing for us on an iceberg – all very exciting! Anyway, we had been promised a landing, so 19.00 dinner was abandoned and at 18.30 we went off to do a landing on the tundra.



There are four national park rangers who came aboard yesterday and will stay with us whilst we are in Franz Josef Land. As they say, their job is to protect the polar bears from us, so they go ashore first and scout for bears and then they either post a perimeter, within which we can wander, or they lead and escort single file groups on a longer walk. Each of them carries a high-powered rifle.


Back for dinner and then we had a call for anybody who wanted a zodiac cruise close to the edge of the glacier. Still broad daylight of course, so back into our gear and off we went again at 22.30 for about an hour. This also meant we were very late in the bar tonight!