Just arrived in Longyearbyen, capital of Spitsbergen, Norway deep in the Arctic and land of the Polar Bear. I’m here to join a Polar Bear expedition for 8 days aboard MS Expedition which embarks 30 July. It’s around midnight and it feels so strange to be experiencing the warmth of the sunshine! We’ve been traveling all day and I should feel exhorted but incredibly quite energized
Spitsbergen is easy to reach and this is usually on a flight via Tromso or Oslo. In 1925 Norway was granted sovereignty over Spitsbergen and with it the opportunity of calling the whole archipelago Svalbard which derives from a Viking name meaning cold edge. Spitsbergen is today’s name for the biggest island in the achipelago. Svalbard has a land surface of 61,022 sq km and is roughly the same size as Scotland.
As I’m here to enjoy seeing Polar Bear in its natural habitat here’s a few facts about the worlds biggest carnivore;
Svalbard is considered the best places in The Arctic to view Polar Bear
On Svalbard there are more Polar Bears than there are humans apparently
The best opportunities of viewing Polar Bears is on a vessel based small ship expedition around Svalbard
Polar Bears along with other Polar Animals are protected in Svalbard
Outside the inhabited settlements you have to expect a Polar Bear anywhere and at any time and they wonder freely.
If a bear comes in to a settlement or close by they are usually spotted and scared away but now and then they do stroll in and even in 2007 one was spotted near the road in the harbour. Last unfortunate human fatality was in 2011 and before that 15 years previously.
On and expedition or land based tour it’s recommended to take a guide who carries a gun at all times when outside the settlements. This is strictly precautionary and in most cases if a flare or gun goes off the bear will not be seen for dust but there are unfortunate occasions every year when for safety reasons bears have to be shot and killed.
If you are camping (Land based)on Svalbard you are advised to take every precaution possible; use trip wires around the camp, take sledge dogs the best form of alarm, do not camp close to the coast as bears like to walk along shorelines. Most of all a watch should be in place at all times.