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Polar Bear Day

Polar Bear Day

We’ve been on the ship the Plancius for four days now. After we took off from Longyearbyen, we sailed north in the direction of the pack ice. On the first day I saw already a species that was a huge target for me, the largest animal on the planet: blue whale! The birds are also coming along nicely, photographing flyby puffins is a challenge but it gets easier. With a successful start in Longyearbyen I have already seen most of the birds I’ve been wanting to see. Today is the day that we should arrive at the pack ice and that means a big chance on the main target of the trip: Polar Bear!

That’s why I’m already up at six am to scan the area in front of the ship with the telescope. We can already see the pack ice at a distance. Suddenly I see a small yellow dot moving slowly over the ice: that looks like a Polar Bear! After a few moments I see that it is indeed a Polar Bear, my first Polar Bear and self-found! The next challenge is to get closer. Slowly the ship approaches the bear and soon we can take the first ‘less is more’ pictures.

Polar Bear

Luckily the bear waits for us. When after a while the ship can’t move any further because of the ice, we can take nice pictures of the bear.

Polar Bear

This great sighting turned out to be only the start of a great Polar Bear day. On the pack ice in front of us we find seven more Polar Bears, among them a mother with a small cub. Sadly they all stay pretty far away.

Polar Bears

During the rest of the day we keep finding Polar Bears. Also on our way to another area we come across a nice big male Walrus.


At the end of the afternoon we watch a Polar Bear trying to sneak up on a seal (without success). We see Polar Bears in all sorts of environments. We also encounter a particularly skinny bear. When we are finally at dinner we have seen 18 Polar Bears!

Polar Bear and a Ringed Seal


The day is not over yet. When you are sailing between ice floes in the arctic, you can always encounter a bear! Shortly after dinner comes the message of the bridge that right in front of us there are three Polar Bears walking together. It’s a big bear with two smaller ones. A mother with two cubs we think, at first. Slowly we get closer and the bears are also walking towards us, so at a certain moment they are so close that I have to do my best to still get the whole bear on the photo because I can’t zoom out my prime 400mm, a luxury problem! De big bear moos sometimes to the smaller ones, while they walk around our ship. This great experience lasts for about a half hour. It’s awesome to watch these bears close to the ships, minding their own business. We do notice that the smaller bears appear to be wanting to move away from the bigger one though. Suddenly one of the bears turns around and growling attacks the larger animal. It does not turn into a fight, because the smaller bear would definitely lost that battle. It looks they don’t get along really well after all. After a while they move away again. The two smaller ones first with the bigger one behind them. I took many pictures which I’ve put in the gallery below for convenience. This was the moment when I took my best pictures of Polar Bears! I put them in chronological order to show better how everything went.

Of course we are ecstatic after this. These are the kind of sightings you hope for, but you certainly can’t count on them! After studying the photos the situation appears to have been different to what we initially thought. It’s not a mother with two cubs, but a full grown male a full grown female and a cub! That also explains the aggressive behaviour of the mother towards the male. It’s really strange that a male is already chasing a female that is still taking care of a cub. The guides tell us that there are already some research results that indicate that the hormones of female Polar Bears are influenced because of plastic in the water. That could explain this situation. If that is indeed true it shows in how many different ways plastic in the water has negative consequences for the world.  

We can hardly believe how many things we’ve seen in just one day. The only thing that we were held out on was a Polar Bear with a kill. Two days later we settle that though! It was great to watch the kill with all the Ivory Gulls around it as well. I put the pictures of that encounter again in a galery.

We end up with a stunning total of 26 Polar Bears: the Polar Bear special lived up to it’s name!

Have a look here for more pictures of the birds of Svalbard.


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