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Map northwest Spitsbergen with Amsterdamøya

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

Gene­ral: The litt­le island Ams­ter­damøya is at the nor­thwes­tern cor­ner of Spits­ber­gen, direct­ly north of Dan­s­køya. Ams­ter­damøya is famous for its wha­ling histo­ry.


Ams­ter­damøya seen from sou­the­ast, with the low­land of Smee­ren­burg in the fore­ground.

Geo­lo­gy: Base­ment. Meta­mor­phic rocks like gneiss, phyl­li­te and mica schist are pre­do­mi­nant. Stron­gly uplifted during north atlan­tic rif­ting in the upper Creta­ce­ous and lower Ter­tia­ry. The low­land in the sou­the­ast is cover­ed with upper plei­s­to­ce­ne morai­ne.

Rocks and Ice: Recom­men­ded book for fur­ther, well-digesta­ble (real­ly!) infor­ma­ti­on about Spitsbergen’s natu­ral histo­ry.

Rocky shore north of Smeerenburg

Rocky, shal­low shore north of Smee­ren­burg.

Land­scape: Most of Ams­ter­damøya con­sists of a litt­le moun­tain pla­teaux with steep rock slo­pes and an undu­la­ting pla­teaux on top with a maxi­mum alti­tu­de of 472 met­res. Only the sou­the­as­tern part has some squa­re kilo­me­t­res of low­land, which is cover­ed with mud­dy sand and stones. It can be quite wet and soft in the ear­ly sum­mer. The­re are seve­ral lakes and lagoons near the shore and 2 gla­ciers.

Lagoon, Amsterdamøya

Lagoon on Ams­ter­damøya. Dan­s­køya in the back­ground.

Flo­ra and fau­na: The vege­ta­ti­on is rather scar­ce and con­sists most­ly of moss beds and lichens. Scur­vy grass and Alpi­ne sor­rel are abun­dant on cliffs near bird colo­nies. Har­bour seals are some­ti­mes res­t­ing on stones near the shore expo­sed at low tide. Have a look for unex­pec­ted bird spe­ci­es on the lagoons, this seems to be a good place for vagrants. Gre­at nor­t­hern diver and Red-necked phalar­ope are among­st the spe­ci­es that have been seen here. The Spits­ber­gen reinde­er and arc­tic fox are roa­ming over the low­land, and it is not too uncom­mon to see a polar bear wal­king some­whe­re. Some­ti­mes wal­rus­ses are res­t­ing on the shore near the blub­ber ovens in Smee­ren­burg.

Walrus, Smeerenburg

Wal­rus on the shore near a blub­ber oven in Smee­ren­burg, Ams­ter­damøya.

Histo­ry: Ams­ter­damøya is famous for the wha­ling sta­ti­on Smee­ren­burg, which was built by Dutch wha­lers in the 17th cen­tu­ry on the sou­the­as­tern point of the island. 8 com­mer­ce cham­bers from dif­fe­rent Dutch towns were acti­ve the­re and had each at least one dou­ble oven com­ple­te with 2 buil­dings. At times, also a Danish com­pa­ny was invol­ved here. From west to east, the ovens had the fol­lo­wing owners: Hoorn/Enkhuizen, Delft, the Danes, Vee­re, Vlis­sin­gen, Mid­del­burg and Ams­ter­dam. The­re were altog­e­ther 16 or 17 hou­ses and a litt­le fort­ress, pro­ba­b­ly a gun bat­tery, in Smee­ren­burg, which trans­la­tes as “blub­ber town”. In the heydays around 1620, the­re were up to 200 men working in Smee­ren­burg for some hec­tic sum­mer weeks. The remains of the blub­ber ovens can still be seen. In the late 1620s, wha­ling got less pro­fi­ta­ble and the acti­vi­ty cea­sed over time, until Smee­ren­burg was aban­do­ned around 1660.

whalers' blubber oven, Smeerenburg

Blub­ber oven in Smee­ren­burg, Ams­ter­damøya.

In 1633-34, a crew of 7 men win­tered suc­cessful­ly. This was the first plan­ned Euro­pean win­tering in Spits­ber­gen. Ano­ther attempt was made in 1634-35, but then, all 7 died. Altog­e­ther 101 gra­ves have been found by archaeo­lo­gists in the low­land not far from Smee­ren­burg.

Whaler's grave, Amsterdamøya

Whaler’s gra­ve on Ams­ter­damøya.

Antigua at Smeerenburg

Almost as in the 17th cen­tu­ry: A Dutch sai­ling ship, the SV Anti­gua, ancho­red at Smee­ren­burg. Remains of a blub­ber oven in the fore­ground.



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last modification: 2014-11-04 · copyright: Rolf Stange