Southern Hinlopen Strait, Svalbard

Jun 04, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer


An early call over the P.A. system by our expedition leader, Brent, brought almost everyone to the decks of the ship or to a forward-facing window. During the night, the ship’s ice pilot, Magnus, had gently pushed the ship’s bow into a vast, solid sheet of fast ice. But the reason for the early announcement was our first sighting of polar bears. In the distance—but easily seen through binoculars or a spotting scope from the bridge—was a female bear with two young first-year cubs. Another bear, some distance from the female, was sprawled on the ice.  

Fast ice is the favorite habitat for ringed and bearded seals, both of whom are a polar bear’s main prey. To avoid disturbing the bears, there was a hush on deck (sound carries easily across the cold ice and in cold air). At one point, a small, white, arctic fox who was feeding approached the bear and some of the guests even caught a glimpse of them together.

Following breakfast, we continued our search, heading south. We spotted walruses on an ice floe, and the ship approached them very slowly so we could get a good look and then ease away, letting the animals continue their rest. As the day ended, we again saw a number of bears either patiently hunting or steadily walking across the fast ice. Even after dinner, in the 24-hour daylight of the Arctic summer, we searched the ice.

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About the Author

Bud Lehnhausen

Naturalist

Bud received an undergraduate degree in wildlife biology at Colorado State University. He then immediately went to Alaska where he worked and lived for 30 years. At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Bud studied wildlife biology and received a master's degree conducting research on four species of alcid seabird nesting on a remote island in the Gulf of Alaska.

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