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“The polar bear will still be there”

by Stefan Brandt Blog

Antarctic Peninsula

Regions: Arctic

Destinations: Svalbard

Highlights: Polar Bear

The bear will still be there… it sounds like a poem. But it was not? Later that day a guest asked me if the Polar Bear would still be there because they had stood there for several hours and taking pictures from the deck and now it was time for lunch. I said yes to her. Don’t worry. Just go down and have some dinner. She smiled and went down for eating.

Earlier that day

For several hours, we had been in the pack ice looking for Polar Bears. Even with many binoculars scanning the ice there was no bear to be seen and only a small number of tracks. That could mean that we were in an area with less bears. Later that morning, we decided to go a few miles to the east where we suspected the abundance of bears might be higher.

Observations of polar bear behaviour

A couple of hours later the pack ice was as it should be. Rough enough to be able to hide a Polar Bear, despite its large size. Finally we found them. Two raw white dots on the ice. They were actually a pair. It seems that the Polar Bears were relaxed about our presence while the boat was approaching them.

So, it seemed like this morning we woke up on a place where we exactly should be for a Polar Bear encounter. In the drifting pack ice near Sjuøyane (the Seven Islands, Svalbard), and with nearly unlimited visibility.

This form for pack ice is a good habitat for the Polar Bears because there primary prey, the ringed seal has their primary pray there as well. The Arctic Cod that is living beneath the ice itself. The drifting pack near shores is also home for the bearded seal.

If a seal has been killed it is often seen that where you find one bear, there are often more bears around, because they are attracted by its smell. To our surprise the two Polar Bears where actually feeding on a seal. We could see that they were two adult males.

Feeding polar bears, stick around and surprisingly enough let people on a ship observe and photograph them.

When we were approaching the spot, a third bear was seen coming from downwind of the kill, headed purposefully upwind. Shortly after the Captain skilfully manoeuvred the ship to a position only a few hundred meters away from where the first two bears were feeding, without disturbing them, the third polar bear arrived.

It was approximately the same size compared to the larger bear of the first pair. That caused the smaller one to nervously walk away about 35 to 40 meters and stand watching the two larger bears feeding.

After about two minutes, the smaller bear apparently determined that it would be safe to join the feast and it did and the three fed together for an hour or so before the larger of the two original bears moved away a few hundred meters and lay down. It seemed that the three bears were all adult males, and two of them were large full adults and the third a younger adult, sometimes during the feeding, one of the bears went to a nearby bit of open water and washed and licked some of the blood of its fur and the bears where occasionally rolling in the snow.

The seal being eaten was a big bearded seal. The bears avoided eating the skin and we could see that the skin was carefully being pulled aside so they could reach the fat from the seal. Now a fourth large bear came from a long distance and we could see that it was attracted by the smell from the dead seal.

One of the bears went away and left the seal and moved a few hundred meters away and lay down for a rest. At the end of the day we have seen five Polar Bears. The four of them gave us spectacular good observations of their natural bear behaviour.

Down for sleep with a polar bear in mind

It seems luck was with us that day of our Arctic cruise on the Ortelius and after this day everybody went down for sleep with a bear in mind. 

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