Date: 26/06/2023

How to Spot a Polar Bear from an Expedition Cruise Ship in Svalbard

Author: Laura
Location: Norway

MNT travel specialist Annie embarked on an adventure of a lifetime on board the Expedition Cruise ship The Greg Mortimer in early June 2023 and tells the story of the moment when a polar bear was spotted in Svalbard.


Embarking on an expedition cruise in Svalbard was an extraordinary adventure that immersed me with the awe-inspiring beauty of the Arctic. Among the many remarkable experiences that lay ahead in this pristine wilderness, spotting a polar bear ranked high on the list. These magnificent creatures are the emblematic symbols of the Arctic and observing them in their natural habitat is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. In this blog post, I will delve into my personal and thrilling experience of spotting a polar bear during my expedition cruise, while also highlighting the protocols and ethical guidelines to ensure the well-being of both travellers and the wildlife.

As our expedition ship departed from Longyearbyen, we could feel the anticipation building among fellow adventurers. We had nine full days ahead of us onboard the ship with the vast Arctic landscape stretching out before us, filled with towering glaciers, ice-covered fjords, and an abundance of wildlife. The ship's crew, expert naturalists, and guides were well-equipped to lead us on this extraordinary wildlife encounter.

Polar bears are protected species, and it is vital to prioritise their welfare and the conservation of their habitat. When spotting a polar bear, it is crucial to keep a safe distance to avoid disturbing their natural behaviour. Stay at least 200 metres away from these magnificent creatures if they are ashore, and even further if spotted in the sea. This ensures the bears feel comfortable and minimises any potential risks to both humans and the animals.

Keep noise levels to a minimum and avoid sudden movements that might startle the bears. Silence is essential to observe their natural behaviour and to avoid causing unnecessary stress. Binoculars and zoom lenses allow you to enjoy a closer view of the bears while maintaining a safe distance. They also enable you to capture stunning photographs without disturbing the animals.

Always adhere to the instructions provided by the expedition guides. They are experienced professionals who understand the behaviour and safety requirements of polar bears. Their expertise ensures the best possible encounter while prioritising everyone's safety. We’re on the second to last day, and even though the hope was still present, we started to prepare ourselves that spotting a polar bear might not happen. A delicious 3-course dinner had been served in the restaurant, and we had all gathered in the bar for an open mic night. Just as a fellow passenger was talking about why we haven’t yet seen the polar bear, the double 'ding dong' rang out, the signal that had been established to alert us to any polar bear sightings. The excitement on the ship was palpable as everyone rushed to the designated viewing areas to see the majestic polar bear making its way from the shore and into the sea. As the bear swam, its powerful strokes propelling it forward, a hushed excitement spread through the crowd. Where was it going? There were a couple of seals nearby. Would we witness the polar bear attack?

Minutes turned into eternity as the polar bear finally approached an ice floe. The seals were no longer visible as they’d escaped into the sea. With an elegant leap, the polar bear landed on the floating platform, its weight causing it to bob gently. It settled on its newfound refuge, a temporary sanctuary in a vast and ever-changing landscape. We couldn't help but feel a sense of relief and admiration for this remarkable creature's journey.

The encounter with the polar bear left an indelible mark on my soul. The expedition cruise as a whole, not only provided me with a glimpse into the lives of these magnificent creatures, but also fostered a deep appreciation for the fragile beauty of the Arctic. As I reflect upon that extraordinary day, I am reminded of the importance of preserving our planet's diverse ecosystems. We must continue to respect and protect the habitats of these incredible animals, allowing them to thrive undisturbed. The sight of a polar bear in its natural environment serves as a poignant reminder of the fragile beauty that surrounds us. May this serve as an inspiration to cherish and safeguard the wonders of our natural world, so that future generations can experience the joy and wonder of witnessing such incredible moments first hand.

If you'd like to join an expedition cruise in Svalbard, Greenland, Iceland or Canada, find out more here or get in touch with our team who'll match you to the perfect cruise.

Image Credits: Michael Baynes, Annie Fredvang

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