Dog Fight, Dog Sled & Dog Babies in Spitsbergen

It started out like a normal dog sled/cart ride in the summer in Spitsbergen. But in an instant, it changed into an all out war. Two dogs just glanced at each other as they were put side by side in the third position for pulling the ride and a vicious fight broke out instantaneously.
June was given the assignment of holding the dog team and I had to hold down the brake on the cart so the dogs wouldn’t take off until the team was ready. And the last 2 dogs immediately didn’t like each other.

We didn’t know what the dogs were fighting about but the thought hit my mind that all the dogs on the team would get into the fight. Maybe the dogs don’t get to interact with each other much at the Green Dog Sled Park except when they were pulling the dog cart.DSC_0356

Or maybe it was the off-white color hair on one dog or off-white with a black back on the other that they didn’t like. We didn’t know but a vicious fight ensued. First one went for the throat, then the face, then the leg, ear and on and on. Then blood was dripping.DSC_0338

DSC_0341Peter, the dog sled attendant, ran to break them up but to no avail. The dogs were stronger causing him to fall several times. After watching the fight for several minutes, a female sled attendant helped and the dogs were stronger than both of them. And she was bitten and bleeding. It seemed like the fight would never end and that the attendants would never get control. Over and over they tried to break up the 2 mad dogs but they couldn’t.DSC_0344

And the interesting thing about this fight is that the other dogs all stood and watched together. And they were behaving like perfect dogs. DSC_0341


Photo by June Landrum
Finally, after 5 minutes (it seemed an hour) of desperately trying to separate the dogs, the attendants succeeded and were able to gain control. DSC_0368The dogs were rushed to a veterinarian for treatment. And putting together the team continued with 2 new dogs chosen to work side by side and they got along beautifully and worked perfectly together. No fight occurred this time.

PICK ME FOR THE TEAM this barking dog might be saying because all of them are raring to go on every dog sled.

After all 8 dogs were hitched: the team was raring to go. But first June had to get in the cart from her position of holding the dog team so they would not run.

June took this photo of me holding the cart brake down so it wouldn't move as the dogs were hitched to the team.
June took this photo of me holding the cart brake down so it wouldn’t move while the dogs were hitched to the team. It was freezing cold in Longyearben, Spitsbergen, Svalbard.

And I had to turn over holding the brake down to Theresa so I could get in the cart. We never knew we would be put to work building the dog sled/cart team. When we signed the form where we agreed to proceed at our own risk, we never knew what would happen and that we would be put to work to ride.DSC_0468

Now all was ready to go down the gravel road in our cart. With 8 dogs pulling us, we proceeded at a good pace in the open territory toward the old airport in Longyearbyen. But nature called shortly after rounding the first corner, and a time-out was called to allow all dogs a potty break.


It was around 6-7 degree centigrade (about 45 degrees Fahrenheit) and just on the edge of being too hot for the dogs. Still shedding their thick winter fur, they easily became hot as they pulled us in the cart. Several dogs even lay down and rested for a brief moment. Several days before, it was warmer and 2 dogs collapsed from the heat. So caution was taken on this day. Theresa said in the winter, the dogs work every day and do not get hot. But in the summer, all the 170 dogs are rotated for the heat and the exercise. 


Every 3-4 km (quarter to half a mile) Theresa had to stop the ride and water the dogs and let them rest. Their tongues were hanging out about 6 inches and they were panting heavily. The best water in the world was right by the road. Getting 2 pans out, she walked to the flowing stream of newly melted mountain and glacier snow. It was cold, just perfect for those hot dogs.


The lead dogs were first to drink and they lapped it down fast. Then on through the team she proceeded, allowing each dog time to have lots of ice cold water. And then she offered all of them a second chance at the cold water. Before the break was over, Theresa poured the ice cold water on the back of each dog as she parted the thick fur to reach the hot skin.


All the dogs seemed happy now; so on we went toward the old airport. They sometimes pulled to the left or right but mostly they pulled the cart in a straight line. They knew the route well and had performed many rides for the tourists.

Theresa gave an audible command to the team which meant leave the road and go on the grass. After repeating the command several times, the dog team complied and turned onto the grass and stopped. This was the turning around point to return to the dog park. And they were happy to comply because they were going home.


Theresa, the lady who drove our dog cart/sled.
Theresa, the lady who drove our dog cart/sled.

After several stops for more cold water, the ride ended at the dog park where the waiting dogs barked at the team and the team barked back. All were happy.

It is normal for sled dogs to have fights. Males fight for dominance with another male or female and vice versa. And fights can occur concerning breeding.

A cute one in training to be a Sled Dog when he grows up.
A cute one in training to be a Sled Dog when he grows up.

The sled dogs start to be trained for rides around 10 months old and are given easy rides at first. Then as they progress, they become full time sled team members at 1 ½ to 2 years old and they generally pull sleds until 8 years.


But we were not happy until we saw the puppies. And waiting for us was Misa and her 6 three-week old pups. They were so fat and cute and stinky. But we just had to hold them and cuddle them. And then we were happy too.

Photo Copy ©  2015


Polar Bears Here Polar Bears There in Spitsbergen

It was like a fire alarm. When the captain announced a polar bear sighting, all of the passengers immediately dropped what they were doing, grabbed their gear and ran as fast as possible donning cold weather clothing as they ran to the spotted site. “Where is it,” we asked each other and then click, click, click, click, and click as hundreds of cameras photographed another priceless polar bear riding or walking a floating ice sheet while hunting its favorite snack.DSC_0844

It didn’t matter if we were in the shower, on the treadmill, eating, sleeping or visiting with new friends, we all instantly ran to the polar bear site to fulfill our dream of seeing a real live polar bear in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.DSC_0830

Such was life onboard the MS FRAM as it circumnavigated Spitsbergen near the Arctic Circle when the 200 passengers would hear their favorite words, “a polar bear has been sighted”.DSC_0882

Seven times this happened by luck on the MS FRAM on the July 23, 2015 sailing around Spitsbergen. “You never know when we will see a polar bear in the wild” Corinna Skrindo said. “So we inform the passengers on this Hurtigruten cruise no matter what time it is because the passengers come on this cruise with a big wish to see polar bears.” DSC_0800

We saw two Polar bears in Woodfjorden sleeping on land. It was 5:20 AM and 79 degrees 41.3’ N and .013 degrees 41.3’ E when Captain Rune Andreassen woke us all up to tell us of the first sighting. Our hearts were pounding as we awoke from deep sleep and it took a few seconds to realize what he had said.  “Polar bear sighted” keep ringing in our ears as we grabbed jacket, gloves and hat to go to the freezing outside spot where our first polar bears were.DSC_0824

The bears were sleeping on land. And we expected to see them only on a floating ice sheet section from the frozen fjord. But, no, they were just snoozing on Makeoyane Island land, taking a rest from a busy day and night spent looking for their favorite meal, the seal. “That is not a polar bear, it is a clump of ice,” I said to June. But after looking at my photos up close, I discovered it was 2 real live polar bears males just sleeping away. And we all celebrated our first spotting. But we wanted to see some bears standing. DSC_0848

An 80-year-old wheelchair-bound man from Germany went on this cruise just to see a polar bear. “And when you showed him your first photo of that sleeping polar bear, his wish came true,” his son, told me. “And he slept all day after that and was so happy.” DSC_0972

By now, the MS FRAM was going south when we started seeing standing polar bears between 79 and 78 degrees North as we sailed for 5 hours through broken sea Ice sheets at 3 nautical miles per hour in late July.  Luck had for us 4 more polar bears going about their daily lives. And every time the captain announced a sighting, we all took off like running a marathon to see each polar bear because every second counted. It was a priceless sight to behold. DSC_1005

And we were rewarded each time with another awesome photo of a polar bear. One time we were running from one side of the ship to the other as polar bear after polar bear was spotted.DSC_0392

It all happened because of our Captain Andreassen.  Updates on the condition of the sea and frozen ice shield are not available on weekends and it was Sunday. The captain talked to a ship in the area that knew of the sea conditions and had been through this route on the east side of Edgeoeya Island. So the FRAM captain made the decision to go through this broken sea ice route down the eastern coast of Edgeoeya Island instead of taking the planned itinerary route on the western side as the passage between the islands to the west side was still frozen. DSC_0774

“Because our MS FRAM captain’s decision, we got to see almost all of Svalbard and polar bears,” expedition leader Steffen Biersack said as he showed us the old and new route on the map. “We saw much more of Norway’s special northern islands of Svalbard, including Hopen, an island that very few people have visited.” It was wonderful music to our ears as all 200 passengers on this Hurtigruten MS FRAM ship had come on this cruise for one thing mainly, polar bears.DSC_0083

“We went BEAR spotting, Biersack exclaimed.  Had we taken the planned route that was still frozen solid, we also would have been delayed. With this decision, we remained on schedule and saw polar bears.”DSC_0485

Going through broken ice sheets was just incredible and a one-of-a-kind experience in itself. Huge sheets the size of half a soccer/football field would crack in several pieces as our ship hit them. And when it did, it made a sound like severe thunder and would jolt the ship like a little earthquake. The sea birds were chirping, ice was cracking and thundering, and several polar bears were walking from broken ice sheet to ice sheet looking for seals. It was beyond exciting and priceless. It was a 24-hour experience that we included on our list of top wild life experiences in the world.DSC_0844

We saw 4 polar bears walking on the broken sea ice as we passed through it slowly. One bear stopped and looked at us as we went through his territory so that is when I snapped THE photo. That bear was wondering what was that big thing that was slowly moving through his ice, we guessed. Any way, he gave us a perfect photo of a beautiful polar bear.DSC_0919

The next morning around 10 a.m. we were going through a different section of broken sea ice when the Captain announced another bear sighting, and this one was eating a seal. Well, this became an emergency because we had not seen a real live polar bear eating a seal. And there he was just eating away and dragging his food with him. “He was dragging his food because he was real close to the ship when we spotted him” explained Corinna, the assistant expedition leader. “The ship scared him so he just picked up his food and moved away to safely eat his breakfast.”DSC_0921

Every sighting was an emergency to us because every second that passed, a polar bear would be moving further and further away from the ship. Several times when we saw one, it was a few hundred yards/meters from the ship and telephoto cameras were needed to record those beautiful bears. And cameras clicked away and produced some awesome shots of 7 bears on this cruise.DSC_0808

Besides the excitement of polar bear sightings, we did see other wild life.  While visiting Moffen Island, the most northern we sailed at 80 degrees 01’, we saw a herd of walruses on the beach.DSC_0077

On Torellneset Island, 2 herds of walruses were bunched up on shore about 300 meters from our polar circle boats, and all were male with long tusks. The island consisted of small loose pea gravel and walking on it was like walking through sand. Each step we took we would sink down about 4 inches. And each step brought us closer to those stinky males. The stench got stronger and stronger as we approached because we were downwind from them so they couldn’t smell us.  As a result, they were not scared and remained calm so we could photograph them. DSC_0222

Male and female walrus hang out in separate herds except for mating. Tusks were showing everywhere and occasionally a fight would erupt among 2 males and then they would settle down for a rest. Close to this herd of males was another herd of walruses, sex unknown. It was a very foggy day on the island, making for a mystical looking photo of them that seemed out of focus.DSC_0348

DSC_0356After viewing the herd of walruses, several of us decided to slowly walk back to the boat that brought us to the island. As we did, 2 walruses were in the water swimming around and checking what we were doing on their island. Occasionally, they would stick their heads up to see us and that’s when we got THE photo. They ended up at the small boat, checked it out and then left. We wondered what the bull walrus told the rest of the males about us. Could it be that we were all alike in our blue coats, we wondered.DSC_0096

At Alkefjellet, we saw a wall of natural columns in a sheer cliff more than 100 meters (300 feet) high. The landscape of the cliff was formed like individual columns which have been dissected out of the cliff by erosion that followed the columnar structure. A large breeding colony of Brunnichs Guillemots was the main attraction of the cliffs. Many thousands of birds occupied almost every square inch of the cliffs during this summer breeding season and many were flying around.DSC_0110

DSC_0142Beautiful birds were everywhere on this cruise. We saw Northern Fulmer, Glaucus Gull, Ivory Gull, Arctic Tern, Long Tail Skua, Kittiwakes, Little Auks, Red Throated Diver, Barnacle Goose, Brent Goose, Svalbard Rock Ptarmigan and many more different kinds of Arctic birds.DSC_0958DSC_0934DSC_0770

DSC_0546But we didn’t see just wild animals. Glaciers were often just waiting for us to experience them and we did. Several people chose to hike the glaciers while others chose to walk around the area and others just experienced them from the ship. A good time was had by all. But most of all, a good time was had experiencing those polar bears even though they caused us to lose sleep, delay a shower, eat our meal cold or stop the treadmill.  It was all worth the priceless fire alarm adventure.DSC_0511DSC_0892DSC_0988DSC_0015DSC_0865DSC_0374

Photo Copy ©  2015