After sailing north from Bear Island all night long, National Geographic Resolution arrived to huge fields of floating ice surrounding the southern portion of Spitsbergen Island. That’s exactly what we were looking for, and I was already up in the bridge by four o’clock in the morning searching the ice with my binoculars. The sea ice is the very environment where one of the most impressive creatures on earth not only survive but thrive: the polar bear. The largest carnivores on the planet continuously roam the ice on a never-ending search for their main prey, seals. At Svalbard, polar bears have five different seal species to choose from: the ringed, harbor, harp, hooded and bearded seal, plus the occasional walrus or beluga, are their main prey. As we continued making our way deeper into the ice fields, we began finding a few seals and walruses and our hopes to see their predator increased.
Expectation grew and everyone’s eyes were glued to their binoculars or spotting scopes. Suddenly one of our naturalists, Kerstin Langenberger, said what we were eager to hear: “polar bear!” Sure enough, a creamy-colored dot in the ice started to grow as the bear walked towards the edge of the ice in our direction. Trying not to make any noise and lowering our voices, we admired the gorgeous bear with binoculars and telephoto lenses. We watched as the bear suddenly jumped and broke into a seal’s den in the snow looking for a young pinniped meal. But, there were no seals in the den and the bear came back empty-handed, so to speak, and continued its search for breakfast moving away from us. What an amazing sight! We continued our own search for more wildlife and not long afterwards, Kerstin again directed everyone’s attention to another creamy spot in the ice. But as we got closer the creamy spot divided into two: a female polar bear with her cub! Being a good mother, she was cautious and slowly walked away from the strange thing approaching her, but regaled us with marvelous views of her and the little guy. What a treat!
We also had the chance to watch another marvelously strange creature, the walrus. In fact, we found a several of them shortly before dinner, scattered over the ice in pairs or by themselves. Their long distinctive tusks are unique and quite a sight that photographers eagerly captured with their cameras. What a wonderful day exploring the high Arctic around the Svalbard archipelago!
PHOTO: Female polar bear with her cub at Storfjord, Svalbard. Photo by Carlos Navarro