Tracking Polar Bears In Spitsbergen

Tracking Polar Bears in Spitsbergen

Rachel Callus

On my recent adventure to the High Arctic I sailed on board the Ocean Adventurer for 13 days exploring Spitsbergen. Although the itinerary had many highlights including Zodiac cruising past carving glaciers, visiting walrus haul outs, and seeing thousands of birds nesting along the sheer cliffs. The highlight as you can imagine was seeing the king of the north, the majestic polar bear.

Iceberg in Spitsbergen
Glacier Arctic Michelle Sole
Whale breach. Image Credit Michelle Sole

Each day, my fellow passengers and I were out on deck, binoculars in hand, searching for any wildlife. We were not disappointed as we had already seen four polar bears to date, but what made our day in Storfjorden particularly special, was spotting a sleepy mother bear and cub she was feeding. The mother bear stood up on her hind legs and looked straight at us, realised we weren’t a threat and continued caring for her cub. Speaking with some of the crew who had spent years working in the Arctic, they hadn’t been lucky enough to see a mother feeding her cub so it was a special moment for us all.

Polar bear bond
Polar Bear and cub Greg Lepperp
Cub Feeding Steven Fraser

Tracking Polar Bears

You will notice on the images that the mother is wearing a collar. This is a polar bear tracker that has been fitted by polar bear researches for the WWF to help understand the behaviour of polar bears and how climate change and pollution is affecting them. Only females can be fitted with a tracking collar as the males’ necks are wider than their head and the collar just falls off. Find out more about the research here.

Polar Bears on Ice Flow

We stayed on the ice floe for around 3 hours, happily watching her fall asleep and the cub wandering and playing nearby.  As soon as there was any movement from the bears, you would hear the sound of cameras clicking frantically. It is such a wonderful experience to see polar bears in their natural habitat and watching the curious behaviour of a mother and cub is something that will stay with me forever.

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