Your guide to polar bear sightings
As the largest bear species, the polar bear is renowned for being one of this planet’s most powerful and patient hunters. Within the realms of the Arctic, the polar bear is respected and admired for its ability to adapt, his stamina and hunting instinct. Directed by its strong sense of smell, the bear sometimes spends weeks tracking down the most promising hunting grounds. Their journey often takes them far into the icy waters of the Arctic. Sometimes the bears are found floating hundreds of miles away from the mainland!
The search for this planet’s most iconic and equally elusive bear will take you far into the high Arctic. All countries ringing the Arctic offer the opportunity to encounter this fascinating specimen. As you arrive in the most popular spotting areas you’re likely to be greeted by a ‘Beware of the polar bear’ sign. Though the bears only rarely visit the local towns, the fact that the bears often outnumber the human population stands testament for your entry into polar bear territory.
The success of your polar bear spotting holiday, lies in the timing of your trip. As the bears follow certain patterns of movement, chances to view the bears depend on the area and season. Partly, it depends on your personal preferences. Meeting a polar bear mother playfully teaching it’s cubs to hunt in the Canadian tundra can be just as breathtaking as viewing a grown male hunting from an ice float near the Svalbard archipelago on a cruise. Generally speaking, there are three main options to observe the bear. You could go on a multi-day cruise along the shorelines of Arctic islands of Svalbard and Greenland, or drive out into the tundra and spot the bears from the top of an Arctic Crawler. Day trips by boat to some areas which are known to have a high density of polar bears could also be an option if a sighting of the bears is not the main priority.
Norway’s northernmost archipelago, Svalbard, is home to a bear population of 3,000 bears. Despite occasional visits to Longyearbyren during the winter months, the best time to spot the elusive hunter is during the summer from June to August. At this time of the year the bears venture out to hunt for ring seals on the ice floats. The best chance to observe the bears is to go on a multi-day cruise circumventing Svalbard. The cruise offers great opportunities to meet other locals such as Svalbard’s reindeer, the Arctic fox or the local bird population. Alternatively, a boat trip to the East of Svalbard, home to the largest polar bear population on the island could potentially offer great views of the bears. Have a look at our summer expeditions where you could circumnavigate Svalbard or join Arctic summer expeditions.
When travelling to Svalbard please note that tracking down polar bears using any kind of technology are against the local wildlife regulations, If you are lucky enough to meet one these powerful creatures, you will have to keep your distance and are not supposed to approach the bear. After all, this is the polar bear’s territory.
The most popular spot to view the bears is the Churchill ‘the polar bear capital of the world’ Tucked between the vast Arctic tundra and the rocky shores of Hudson Bay, the town forms a gateway into Canada’s fascinating wilderness. While the polar bear is the undisputed king of the local wildlife, encounters with beluga whales and Arctic birdlife around the icy waters of the bay add to a once in a lifetime holiday experience.
Especially during the summer months, the bear mothers are often found playing with their cubs in the endless daylight warming up the tundra. On top of the Arctic Crawler, a vehicle designed to protect you from some of the more curious specimen you can safely observe the behaviour of the majestic bears. Did you know that a bear on his hind legs can reach a whopping height of 3 metres?
A lesser known and truly exclusive experience is a visit to Canada’s newest national park, the Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador. The shores of the park form the corner pillars of the ice bridge polar between Canada and Greenland. Entering one of Canada’s truly remote areas is an invitation to connect with the local Inuit population. Their ancient relationship to the polar bear is marked by great respect, as the nickname of the polar bear as ‘the great master of bears’ suggests. This trip is ideally suited to those, who are keen to learn about the relationship between the First Nations and the surrounding wildlife.
Similar to Svalbard the best chances to view the Royals of the Arctic is to take a cruise along the rugged Greenlandic shores. Locked in the eternal ice, the shores offer ideal hunting conditions for the bears. As your sailing boat takes you into the most remote fjords, sightings of local wildlife including whales or the endemic muskox are likely to turn into storytelling material for your grandchildren. In fact, they might not hear the end of it!
Regardless of the trip you choose, encounters with the ‘Royals of the Arctic’ are to be handled like any chance meeting with the royal’s within their territories. They are to be treated with due respect and are best enjoyed from a safe distance. Be sure to only enter polar bear territory in company of an experienced guide. While views of the fluffy bear from the distance are picturesque, it’s better to take your guides by their word when they mention the bear’s smooth fur.
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