I have been lucky enough to have had many close encounters with wildlife getting within a few feet of many great predators including both tigers & lions but nothing quite prepared me for my recent polar bear encounter in Spitsbergen.

I have heard it said many times that polar bears are the only animal that actively hunts humans and was aware that visiting bear country in the Arctic means travelling with an armed guide.

What I wasn’t quite so prepared for was during a zodiac cruise seeing a large male polar bear sleeping high on a ridge, on hearing our zodiac he got up and sauntered down to the beach where he settled back down for a further nap – apparently. However, watching closely you could see he had settled himself down carefully pushing his back paws deep into the sand behind him. Resting his head on his front paws but never quite closing his eyes, fidgeting and opening them to check where we were. He hung his front paw down over the rocks which made him look so gentle and peaceful. He was quite clearly trying to lull us into a false sense of security, enticing us to get closer for that ultimate photograph. From his perfect position a lunging jump into a Zodiac was an easy meal option. I was glad of my camera’s long lens which gave me a great view well outside his striking distance along with a guide who was well aware of the bear’s tricks.

This was just one of the many highlights of an amazing Spitsbergen voyage on which we saw plenty of polar bears, literally tons of walrus, arctic foxes, huge bird nesting cliffs & friendly reindeer set to a backdrop of mountains, tundra and calving glaciers.

Thanks for reading

Sue Grimwood, Russian Arctic

Author: Sue Grimwood