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Polar Bear on Ice, Spitsbergen, Arctic

Polar bear holidays

Seeing a wild polar bear crossing the Arctic tundra is one of the natural world’s most awesome and poignant sights. Perfectly adapted to its hostile environment, the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore is the undisputable apex predator of the High Arctic. But despite its formidable stature, the future of the polar bear is threatened as the impact of climate change beings to bite hard.

Climate change is having a devastating effect on the formation of sea ice in the Arctic. The hunting grounds of the polar bear are receding. These climatic changes are also affecting tourism in the region, as seasons become less predictable and areas once cut off due to thick ice are now accessible.

Despite this, polar bears are still frequently being seen by our clients travelling to the Arctic. Bears are seen swimming in the sea in search of sea ice, or can often be seen roaming on land, looking for food. If travelling on an expedition cruise, the ship’s expedition leader will look to access areas where the sea ice is still intact to look for bears hunting for seals. As the future of the High Arctic grows less certain, sightings of polar bears in the wild have never been more poignant. The plight of Nanuq, King of the North has come to symbolise the plight of animals under threat all over the world.

Polar Bear, Canadian Arctic
Polar Bear, Canadian Arctic

Spitsbergen – the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago

In Svalbard, during the summer months, you are virtually guaranteed to see polar bears. Take an expeditionary cruise, starting in Longyearbyen and sail around the Svalbard Archipelago to areas where bears are known to frequent. Most voyages will see somewhere between 6 and 10 bears, although we have had lucky clients who have had 30 sightings. If you want to see bears on ice, then the early season is better. Sightings out in the sea ice are normally from the main ship and bears on land are generally seen during zodiac cruises. If a bear is sighted during a landing, you will return to the zodiacs and view from a safe distance of around 50 metres.

Polar Bear, Canadian Arctic
Canadian Arctic

Churchill – see polar bears on guided treks

For those wanting to see bears uninhibited in the wild then a walking safari from a lodge located close to Churchill is an exhilarating experience. Depending on when you travel you may see mothers and cubs through to fully grown adult males. Small groups of walkers are led by experienced guides who monitor the behaviour of the bears to allow for close encounters where both bear and client are relaxed in each other’s company. Seeing the world’s largest land-based carnivore on foot in close proximity is a humbling and pulse-racing experience. During the summer months, this can be combined with swimming with belugas that congregate in huge numbers along the Hudson Bay coastline.

Polar bear on ice
Polar bear on ice

Take a cruise to the Russian Arctic

Further afield, Wrangel and Herald Islands in Russia’s far northeast is a challenge to get to but has the highest concentrations of polar bears with cubs in the world. If the complications of visas and a very long journey don’t put you off, you will be one of the very few people who have reached these distant lands. Clients often see over 100 polar bears in the duration of a 12-day cruise. Brown bears can also be seen on the Chukotka coastline. Sightings are occasionally from zodiacs and from the ship, but most sightings are made on foot, escorted by an armed guide. You can also expect to see musk ox, walrus, relics from the cold war era and meet with the Chukchi peoples of the region.

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After years of dreaming about a trip like this, I entrusted the planning and logistics to Sue. What a seamless journey and the most memorable trip – I will never forget seeing a narwhal for the first time.

Destination: Canadian Arctic
Travel Expert: Sue

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