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Polar Bears in Svalbard

Just came back from a spectacular cruise with Lindblad and National Geographic Expeditions around Svalbard (the island group north of Norway with the closest permanent settlement to the North Pole).

While a documentary series like the BBC’s Frozen Planet can give you some sense of the beauty and fragility of these places there is nothing like actually being there, feeling the chill wind, the sound of glaciers calving, the smell of bird cliffs, etc. It also provides an opportunity to witness some magnificent sights such as a polar bear drama we witnessed.

In the distance we spotted an old male polar bear lying on the ice. As we drew close we discovered that he had company. Initially we thought that the female bear and cub close to him were waiting by a seal breathing hole but no they were lying there watching the male bear (although strictly speaking Mum was watching the male bear and the cub was watching Mum). The male was lying on what appeared to be a pillow of snow but that too proved to be incorrect as suddenly he pulled a baby beluga whale from the snow. When he did the great reveal and started eating it she challenged him but he saw her off (and her confused/frightened cub). Walking in the far distance were two more bears who nearly instantly changed direction and started to come in our direction. First a young female came to challenge, perhaps indicating how hungry she was and then a young male. Both were scared away by the old, scared male but they all then set up camp not far from him (and us in the ship) to watch for another opportunity. I have no idea how it ended as we moved away while the old male was still eating with his audience of 4 other bears.