Franz Josef Land Expedition: Amazing Facts

Exploring the underwater environment surrounding the 191 islands of Russia’s Franz Josef Land, Enric Sala and team dove more than 111 hours cataloging the species that call these nearly untouched waters home. (Photo by Dave McAloney)

Enormous walruses floating overhead…

Polar bears pacing the nearby coasts…

THIS is the thrilling world in the waters of FRANZ JOSEF LAND.

Well-versed in the trials and dangers of remote exploration, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala has put aside the trappings of tropical diving, and led his trusty team where few have gone before…

Into the depths of the RUSSIAN ARCTIC.

Now, after weeks at sea braving harsh weather, dangerous beasts, crashing icebergs, and shortages of vodka, the latest Pristine Seas expedition has returned home to tell a tale like none other!

Photographs can tell part of the story. For the rest, only the awe-inspiring REALITY OF NUMBERS can suffice.

Enough delay. Embark with us on a journey through statistics, and then, if you absolutely must, you can see the stunning photos and read the written accounts of our heroes at the full blog series linked below.


Franz Josef Land Expedition by the Numbers

Distance traveled within the FJL archipelago – ca. 3500 km

Anchor sites – 33

Landing localities – 35 on 24 islands

Zodiacs (small boats) shuttled to land and diving localities – over 370

Benthic stations achieved – 90, including 35 grabs and 53 diving.

Oceanographic and plankton station conducted – 22, max depth – 554 m

Dropcams (deep water camera) – 24 dives, average depth – 165 m, max – 392 m

Highest elevation climbed – 558 m


229 dives

111 hrs. 13 min. total underwater time

56 min. longest dive

22 sites visited

New Species for the Archipelago

2 species of birds

11 species of macro-algae

15 species of benthic invertebrates

One Greenland shark

(more to be determined after examination of collections)

Other Animal Sightings

Birds ringed – 223

New ivory gull colony found

Polar bears observed – 42

Walruses counted on the land haul outs – over 3,000

Whales observed – 45

Historical photographs retaken – 180


THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES! Read All Franz Josef Land 2013 Blog Posts

The Pristine Seas: Franz Josef Land expedition is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water. 

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.