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Here at TravelWild Expeditions we look forward to our 2012 exclusive charter to see Spitsbergen’s polar bears and wildlife. In July, just 54 travelers will sail the Svalbard Archipelago aboard the Polar Pioneer with our hand-picked staff of wildlife and polar experts, including naturalist Dennis Mense, TravelWild’s Sales Director. Dennis, having visited both polar regions hundreds of times, shares his enthusiasm about this unique upcoming trip.

Dennis Mense

You’ve been to the polar regions hundreds of times. What are you particularly looking forward to on this trip?

I’m looking forward to this trip in many ways. First, the team we have assembled has more than just the knowledge base of the area and the plants and animals found there—we have storytellers that make the area come to life. Wayne Lynch and Chris Morgan have both been (and continue to be) involved with research on bears. Chris is a bear biologist and his three-hour long documentary, Bears of the Last Frontier, recently aired on PBS. Wayne has written Bears, the best overall book on the animal, and is just finishing collaborating with polar bear biologist Andy Derocher on a new book. Chris and Wayne have both spent seasons in the Arctic—often in very difficult and dangerous situations we would never put ourselves in—trying to understand and capture on film both the bears and their environment. Chris Leahy is a longtime bird biologist (ornithologist) who knows the Arctic. He will help us understand how the huge colonies of birds that we visit are important to the northern ecosystem.

What I really look forward to when working with this team is the way they know how to have fun while interpreting the North. I guarantee that, starting on the day you board the Polar Pioneer your sides will be “splitting” from laughter. You will not only go home with a much greater understanding of the Arctic, but with a whole new family of friends.

What will be a highlight of this trip that people wouldn’t normally expect?

I think that one of the real highlights is that Spitsbergen is much, much more than just polar bears—it is a microcosm of what the Arctic is all about and the struggle for survival to which each and every plant and animal has successfully adapted. It is this whole picture of an environment and the interactions of each animal within it—along with the sheer beauty—that will have us rewinding the experience through our minds for years to come.

What will a typical cruise day look like?

On a typical day I will give a morning wake-up call around 7 AM to 7:30 AM: “Good Morning…the time is 7 AM and we can see the face of the Monaco Glacier in the distance…there are seabirds everywhere. We will be approaching the glacier face after breakfast…the temperature is a balmy 36℉ and we have sunshine. Breakfast will be served in one hour at 8 AM.”

Once breakfast is over, we will go for a Zodiac cruise in the ice, maybe landing on shore for up to three hours. Onshore we divide into two groups: those going on a slow or “short” walk and those wanting a fast or “long” walk. Around 12:30 or 1 PM, back on board, we’ll have lunch as the ship steams to a new destination—all the while looking for polar bears. Sometime in the afternoon we will all get ready to go ashore again, perhaps to look at a group of walrus relaxing on the beach, or we might spend the afternoon sailing along pans of ice, looking for polar bears and seals. While on the lookout for bears, we will also take advantage of what the area has to offer: tundra vegetation and flowers, arctic fox, reindeer, seabird colonies, shorebirds and ptarmigan. After our final outing of the day, we shower up and get ready for dinner—but first we have a recap of what has happened that day. We’ll go over what we saw and what it all meant and you will have an opportunity to ask your staff about a particular plant or animal or behavior that you saw or why Wayne was photographing in a certain way (he is also a well-known professional photographer).

This would be followed by my giving you a picture of what we think we might be doing the next day—and I say “think we will be doing” because if we spot a bear or some other interesting animal it could change our plans for the day and, of course, weather and ice can change plans on a moment’s notice. This is the nature of expeditions. “Expect change” and “be patient” are the watch words for every day when you are viewing wildlife. Ah yes, time for dinner and then an informal get together or a movie…Phew! With all the fresh air and dinner it is soon snooze time in the land of the midnight sun.

What about climate change? Will the bears be stressed out due to loss of habitat?

Climate change in the Arctic is very prominent—more so than in more southern climes. The reflection of snow and ice in the Arctic has helped prevent the Arctic from warming, but as the Arctic ice and snow melts and uncovers the seas and the vegetation, more of the sun’s rays are absorbed, thus causing that much more heating. As we travel through these areas, you will see where the glaciers used to extend out to meet the sea. You will see firsthand evidence of climate change. We will likely see the effects of this on the polar bears who might have less fat on their bodies.

Thanks, Dennis!

Chris Morgan, another expedition leader on this charter, has traveled the far reaches of the planet and concurs with Dennis’ enthusiasm for the Svalbard Archipelago.

“I’ve guided expeditions to Spitsbergen for years to show people polar bears. It is mind-blowingly beautiful—like someone chopped off the Swiss Alps and plunked them in the middle of the ocean. It is one of my favorite places.”

Make your plans now to join Dennis Mense, Chris Morgan, Wayne Lynch and Chris Leahy on an unparalleled voyage to the land of polar bears and wildlife.

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