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Polar Bears


Encounters with the King of the Arctic

Before Natural World Safaris, the brand was split into three, including World Bear Safaris. We have kept all of our specialist knowledge from our World Bear Safari days and continue to design journeys into the natural world to see these magnificent creatures in the wild, including the King of the Arctic, the Polar Bear.

Polar bears are extremely intelligent; having adapted behaviour for catching seals and smashing open ice blocks to remove frozen fish. They have even been observed piling up plastic piping just to knock it down later for the fun of it. Contrary to popular belief, polar bears have never been seen covering their nose whilst stalking prey.

POL Sl Nws Svalbard Aug Polar Bear And Cub Credit Chase Teron

Where do Polar Bears Live?

The Best Time to See Polar Bears in Svalbard

Latest figures on the number of polar bears suggest that the Svalbard Archipelago is home to around 3,000 bears. It is tricky to say when specifically it is best to see polar bears in Svalbard. Early in the season, during the month of May, conditions can be perfect as the ice has not yet melted and the snowy white backdrops can make for a photographer's dream. Later in the season, July and August, the pack ice begins to melt meaning you can push further north, cover more ground, and the polar bears are often more concentrated in the remaining icy areas.

We have led Polar Explorer expeditions throughout the season from April to August on the M/V Kinfish, a small passenger ship that is ideal for exploring Svalbard's fjords, coves, and glaciers. Its size allows easy navigation through rugged landscapes, tight spaces and shallower waters to explore wilder and more secluded areas - often allowing us to discover some of the favourite hideouts of the bears themselves.

The Best Time to See Polar Bears in Arctic Canada

Many people refer to Churchill as “The Polar Bear Capital of the World” such is the abundance of bears in the area. Once a year, for a limited time only the bears gather on the tundra, waiting for the "Big Freeze" so they can start the winter seal hunting season out on the pan ice. It is not uncommon to see, at this time, mothers with their cubs and large male bears sparring to pass the time. Between October and November is the best time to see polar bears in Churchill. For a completely different experience you can go during the 24 hour daylight summer months, May and July, when the best place to see polar bears is on a floe edge safari on or around Baffin Island. You may spot polar bears hunting on the ice and this is also a great time to spot narwhals, the unicorns of the sea.

The Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge offers the best polar bear sightings in Arctic Canada's untouched wilderness and the Newborn Polar Bear Cubs Lodge, 40 miles south of Churchill, Manitoba, provides a full-service non-consumptive wilderness experience for observing newborn cubs.

Cl Svalbard Kinfish June Credit Alex Stead

Where is the best place to see polar bears?

In Svalbard, the best place to see polar bears is on the M/V Kinfish during the summer months.

In Arctic Canada, the best place to see polar bears is at Dymond Lake Lodge in October and November.

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Polar Bears in the Wild

Polar bears are key figures in the cultural and spiritual lives of the indigenous Arctic people; known in Greenland as ‘Tornassuk - the master of helping spirits’ and ‘Nanuk’ to the Inuits. Related to the extinct Irish brown bear, they are thought to have split between 400,000 and 2 million years ago, adapting to a narrower niche in the Arctic. As the world’s largest land carnivore, polar bears have adapted remarkably well to their icy Arctic environment where temperatures can plunge down to -45 degrees; their characteristic silhouette of a long neck and narrow Roman nose assisting them in seizing prey from holes. Skin is black with a layer of fat beneath it measuring up to 4.5 inches in thickness and paws are up to 12 inches across, distributing their immense weight over thinning ice and acting as paddles and rudders whilst swimming.

Polar Bear Conservation

While population estimates are difficult, some 20-25,000 bears are thought to exist throughout the Arctic. Although the hunting of polar bears is restricted to indigenous peoples in Greenland and Alaska and banned completely in Svalbard and Russia, Canada actually issues hunting quotas each year, meaning you can kill a bear yourself if you have the funds and the inclination. Despite this, hunting is not a major threat to the survival of the polar bear.

By far the biggest threat to the polar bear is climate change. Research published by the University of Mexico in 2018 showed that an adult polar bear needs to consume the equivalent of at least one fully grown ringed seal every 10 days in order to survive; less ice means fewer hunting opportunities, resulting in starving bears across the Arctic. These bears are being forced to either head miles from land on pieces of drift ice in search of the more solid pack ice – their prime hunting ground – or tough it out on land. The latter of those choices means more and more bears are heading to towns in search of food, bringing them into closer contact with humans than ever before. This of course brings its own risks – the number of bears being shot for being too close to human settlements has increased dramatically in recent years. For the bears who head north with the receding ice, their shrinking territory makes for difficult hunting.

Cl Svalbard Polar Bear Caron Steele

Why book your polar bear safari with NWS?

NWS were one of the first companies to operate small ship expeditions in the Arctic and have many trip logs from almost 10 years of operating these trips in this region. As a proud member of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) since 2016, Natural World Safaris work to preserve the polar bear's habitat on every safari. We work closely with our Specialist Leaders and Expedition Leaders to offer you to chance to join the ultimate in polar bear exploration.

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Do polar bears hibernate?

Polar bears do not hibernate. Instead, pregnant polar bears will den. During this time, the denned polar bear will rely on fat reserves and their temperature will not decrease like in hibernation, to keep the cubs warm.

What do polar bears eat?

Polar bears feed mostly on seals, and will also scavenge on marine mammal carcasses.

When is the best time to see polar bear cubs?

Spring is the best time to see polar bear cubs as they come out of their den with their mothers in March or April. Polar bears will have 1 - 3 cubs that are born around new years but they will stay with their mum in a den until the springtime.

How many polar bears are left?

There are currently around 22,000 polar bears left in the wild, in a total of 19 subpopulations. Global warming and climate change is their greatest threat. 60 - 80% of polar bears are found in Canada.

What colour is a polar bear's skin?

A polar bear's skin is actually black and their fur is translucent. They appear white because their fur reflects the light.

How far does a polar bear travel?

Polar bears will follow the movements of the ice pack and can travel up to 30km or more per day.