Polar Bear Tour
The seal’s dread, the whale’s bane, the ever-wandering one – all names for the majestic, awe-inspiring creature commonly known as the polar bear. These animals are icons of the Arctic, symbols of fear and reverence, and one of the central reasons thousands of tourists and adventurers alike embark on voyages to the far northern latitudes every year. There are in fact a number of polar bear cruises devoted almost exclusively to finding and viewing these magnificent animals, whose continued existence on Earth has sadly become so precarious.
Polar Bear Tour Basics
Though polar bears can be found all over the circumpolar north, our polar bear tours focus their energies around northern Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and a prime polar bear habitat. Polar bears can be as dangerous as they are beautiful, so expedition guides armed with powerful rifles supervise all landings and lead all hikes. Passengers are cautioned never to approach a polar bear if they see one, and sometimes it happens that landings are canceled altogether if a polar bear is sighted too close to (or even approaching) the landing site. The reason is simple: Polar bears are carnivorous hunters and can be aggressive if they feel threatened. Caution is therefore paramount, despite the fact that polar bear trips cannot guarantee a polar bear sighting. Most standard-length polar bear tours often manage only one or two encounters.
The Lure of the Polar Bear Tour
If polar bear trips cannot ensure a sighting, why do so many people continue to book tickets? The reason perhaps lies in the mythic status of the creature itself. For many Arctic enthusiasts, the polar bear exists in a world apart. Its image is so indelibly tried to the Arctic that it functions virtually as a stand-in for the land itself: indomitable, exotic, deadly if not respected. Moreover, the polar bear has fascinated and frightened humankind since its earliest days. The Sami and Laplanders of northern Norway would not dare speak its name, instead giving it a number of nicknames (not unlike the ones mentioned above) to avoid angering it. The Inuit called polar bears “wandering ones”, the Kets called them “grandfathers,” and their Latin name, Ursus maritimus, given by British Commander C.J. Phipps in 1774, translates to “sea bear.” This is a creature that has meant many different things to many different cultures. Not surprising, then, that polar bear tours continue to pack on the passengers.
What Powers the Polar Bear
But putting aside the mythic status of the polar bear, at the end of the day they are animals just like the rest of us – albeit at the top of the Arctic food chain. They sleep (around 20 hours a day), they mate (in the spring, like a lot of animals), and they eat. Indeed eating and finding things to eat are among their main occupations, and many pictures taken on polar bear tours capture them in the act of doing just that. They prefer a diet of seals, though they’re far from picky: Reindeer, musk oxen, crustaceans, caribou, walruses, birds, bird eggs, whale carcasses, plants, and even other polar bears will also do. When they’re fortunate enough to catch a seal, they consume mainly the calorie-rich blubber and skin, leaving the red meat and its abundant protein to their cubs. It is especially fortunate when a polar bear tour encounters a polar bear with its young.
Polar Bear Range and Ranges
It is to find sufficient food supplies that polar bears spend much of their time roaming considerable distances. Hunting leads them all over the Arctic, though polar bears are thought to have preferred feeding areas called “home ranges.” Changing conditions in the home range, however, often compel polar bears to travel hundreds of miles in search of better fare. These journeys can take some time, as polar bears are not fond of sustaining a breakneck pace: They tend to keep their roaming speed at around 5 km (3 miles) unless they are leading their cubs, only reaching speeds of about 4 km (2,5 miles) per hour during short sprints. Though polar bears are elusive, their wide-ranging hunts explain why they can be found all over the Arctic. Spitsbergen polar bear tours, however, offer the highest probability of a sighting.
See the Polar Bear Yourself – Check Out our Many Polar Bear Tours
Reading about the polar bear is one thing, seeing one in person is something else – and seeing one on an Arctic polar bear trip rather than the regulated confines of a zoo is one step farther. A number of our Svalbard cruises afford you the possibility of spotting a polar bear. To find out more about how you can experience these living emblems of the Arctic for yourself, check out our wide selection of polar bear tours.