Svalbard Polar Bear Safari

A polar bear jumps from ice flow to ice flow as it searches for seals to hunt. ©Bill Given
I am writing this from virtually as far north on the planet as one can go with the exception of using a nuclear ice breaker. I am on Lindblad’s National Geographic Explorer and we have smashed our way through the start of the polar pack ice to a location just 515 nautical miles to the North Pole. It had been my hope to send daily blog reports but as the fast ice and pack ice has retreated to the north virtually my entire week here has been near or above the 80th parallel putting us into the high Arctic and too far north to have a satellite connection.
I came here to see the legendary ice bears. It has long been a dream to witness polar bears in their Arctic environment and that led me to Norway and upward to the Svalbard Archipelago, some of the northernmost land on earth.
An enormous male polar bear swims inquisitively off the bow of our ship. ©Bill Given
The reduced pack ice could have caused problems as the polar bears need it for successful hunting. Over the last 2 weeks, the ice has been greatly reduced, yet to my good fortune the conditions instead created a fantastic concentration of bears within the remaining area of ice.

Polar Bear Sightings

Over six days of ship based exploration we have had 17 polar bear sightings and 14 of those have been of outstanding quality! In all I have photographed 24 different polar bears including huge males, younger males, solo females, and females with cubs – both a cub of the year and many 19 month old cubs.
In addition to the full variety of sexes and age groups we have also been fortunate to witness much natural behavior including hunting/foraging with leaping from ice to ice, feeding on a kill, swimming right near us, sliding around ice and cubs playing were all witnessed.

Blue Whale and Walrus Sightings

We are now headed back and unlikely to see anymore bears but perhaps will have some luck with whales (already have seen blue, fin, and beluga). I am ecstatic that I was able to see so many spectacular polar bears and really get to witness their behavior on the ice and it is clearly one of the best wildlife experiences I have ever had. I also saw my first blue whale, walrus and reindeer. I will have much more to share once I return and catch up on my African safari work and lion research.

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