Meet the Expert: Jo Cooper, Senior Polar Specialist
Our very own Ice Queen, Jo has one of the coolest jobs around. Having worked at Discover the World for 19 years, her knowledge of the polar regions is unrivalled. Since her initial trip to Spitsbergen in 2006 she has explored Greenland, the Canadian Arctic, Antarctica, the Falklands and South Georgia, and is already eagerly planning her next polar adventure. Read on for some of Jo’s standout experiences and top travel tips for an Arctic exploration.
My first sighting of a polar bear came during an expedition cruise around Spitsbergen
The guides had spotted one from the ship and so we all piled into the Zodiacs for a closer look. As we approached the beach we were thrilled to discover that she was being shadowed by two tiny cubs!
The first time I saw an iceberg was in East Greenland’s spectacular Scoresby Sund
Perhaps one of the most captivating moments of my life, we were in a Zodiac floating through an eerie mist when suddenly a tower of ice the size of a skyscraper just emerged from the haze. I remember thinking that something that size shouldn’t be able to float…
Encountering belugas in the Canadian Arctic was a real highlight
One of the rarest and most distinctive species, the ghost white coloured beluga whales are sighted relatively frequently in the Canadian Arctic. But it still felt like an incredible privilege that this huge pod had chosen to pop by and say hello at the beginning of our voyage.
The midnight sun is one of my favourite features of the Arctic
Imagine sitting out on deck under a blue, sun-drenched sky, a glass of wine in hand, during the middle of the night… The midnight sun can be experienced throughout most of summer – replaced from around mid- August by the equally magical northern lights.
I always say expedition cruises are not a ‘cruise cruise’
They are much more casual. You can turn up to dinner in hiking boots and waterproofs and no-one will bat an eyelid. Polar expedition ships are built for strength and mobility. Although more luxurious ships are now entering the polar market, most remain comfortable, but simple, unfussy workhorses.
We only use ships which carry a maximum of 200 passengers
If the captain spots a blue whale or polar bear, everyone can be off the ship and in a Zodiac getting close-up views and jaw-dropping photos as quickly as possible. Smaller ships can also navigate narrow fjords and iceberg-strewn waters – so you’ll get the best chances of reaching areas with the best wildlife and scenery.
It’s not just the journey, but who you share it with
Passengers aboard expedition ships often hold a deep and long held passion for the regions they are visiting, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Travelling on a small ship enables the passengers and expedition team to get to know each other and form genuine and long lasting friendships, and this shared experience is something that will stay with you forever.
My top tip for anyone planning an Arctic expedition voyage?
Speak to someone who has been there. It’s key to ensuring you choose a voyage that visits the right regions, at the right times, and that you are properly prepared for the journey. I look forward to hearing from you!