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When Heritage Expeditions’ Vessel, the Akademik Shokalskiy, berthed in the Russian Port of Anadyr on Monday 24th September, it had made history. It had successfully completed a double transit of the Northern Sea Route (more commonly known as the North East Passage). Passengers, staff and crew celebrated what they described as the ‘best expedition voyage in the world.’ There has been a limited number of expeditions through the NE passage in recent years, but this is the first time a back to back transit had been attempted.
The Akademik Shokalskiy departed the Port Anadyr (Eastern Russia) on 31st July 2017 bound for Murmansk. It made numerous stops along the Chukotka coastline before making multiple landings on Wrangel Island, the Medvezhyi Islands, the New Siberian Islands, Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago and Franz Joseph Land. Apart from the many landings, staff kept very detailed wildlife observations and the expedition assisted the Arctic National Park with transport of researchers within the archipelago. Passengers disembarked on arrival in Murmansk.
The Eastbound Expedition departed Murmansk with a new group of passengers on the 29th August, visiting the same islands. Ice conditions were a little easier later in the season and wildlife observations were similar. On Wrangel Island we observed 181 Polar Bears concentrated around a dead Bowhead whale washed up on a beach. There were at least another 50 animals seen either making their way to or from the carcass. This is the largest concentration of Polar Bears ever observed. This truly unique observation is attracting a lot of interest from researchers all around the world. Expedition Leader and owner of Heritage Expeditions, Rodney Russ, described the day as a highlight in his 32 year career as an Expedition Leader. The sighting was ‘truly unforgettable, a day that all expeditioners aboard will never ever forget’.
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