Even with all the magnificent beauty, extreme conditions and serious difficulties of living in Svalbard, there is one species that really steals the show. Most people travel up to the arctic with one real hope – to see a polar bear. We were no different, and we were very lucky indeed.
We had several sightings of polar bears, which is lucky in itself, but it’s the interactions we witnessed that fired off the cameras at an alarming rate. Our first sighting was a good appetite setter. She was a young, nervous bear that wasn’t too keen on being photographed. I managed a few long-range shots before she moved off over the ridge. Not long after she disappeared and we celebrated, the second bear appeared out of the mist, and this bear was more obliging. So obliging in fact, that it led us straight to a third bear, who was also relaxed. The conditions were difficult; the rain was becoming a combination of hail and sleet and the zodiacs were rocking back and forth, but it was all forgotten when the two bears stood up and started sparring with each other. Seeing a polar bear is cool. Seeing two bears interacting is fantastic! The cameras were working overtime through the rain/sleet/hail capturing interaction seldom seen on Svalbard. After their sparring session, the two bears parted ways temporarily, leading one of the bears straight to a herd of walruses with a small baby. Walruses are generally too big for the polar bears to handle (see: Svalbard: 100% character), but the babies, now that is a different story. Realising the danger, the mother of the young baby and her close affiliates made a mad dash for the water, literally throwing and rolling the baby down the beach and into the safety of the water. Seeing this, the polar bear walked closer to make sure there were no more baby walrus treats hiding in the herd, and then moved off.
Our next polar bear was brilliantly spotted as it moved over a ridge. We boarded the zodiacs, and went in for a closer look. The bear was quickly re-found, but in a different place to where it should have been. It took us a little while to work it all out, but when a little head popped up from behind the sleeping bear, we knew we had found a different bear from the one that was spotted, and she had a six-month old cub! The rest of the day was spent photographing these three bears in all sorts of positions and locations. The bears eventually met up, and a twenty-minute chase began across the small island they were on. The mother, obviously nervous with such a young cub around, was doing her best to shield the little chap from potential danger, and kept trying to lose the approaching bear. They didn’t get too close to each other (luckily for the little bear) and all ended well. It was great seeing the change in behaviour in the bears, and getting to photograph it. We spent many hours in the company of these amazing animals and were privileged to get many great photographs.
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