In Search of a Polar Bear

The herd of snowmobiles we used to visit the east coast of the island

The herd of snowmobiles we used to visit the east coast of the island

In Longyearbyen, polar bears are both legends and mysteries. Each guide has a story about locals who have been killed and anyone leaving the town is required to carry a gun for protection. Simultaneously, there are only about two to three thousand polar bears on the island and surprisingly few locals have actually seen one within a few kilometers.

This built up my anticipation for a snowmobile trip to the opposite side of the island from Longyearbyen where it is more common to see wildlife that lives on the ice such as seals and polar bears. After a 120 mile journey and a re-hydrated lunch stop, we were on the ice, exploring as far out as we dared to catch a glimpse of a polar bear.

Sadly, on this day it was not to be. The closest we got was paw prints from a sighting our guide had a few days before. There has been a lot of ice this year, which decreases the concentration of polar bears and similarly decreased our chances of finding one.

Luckily some arctic foxes showed up to rescue the safari and provide some much needed excitement for the group (see below). We also caught a glimpse of some reindeer on the way back into town (see below). Our guide impressed us with facts about the ability for the reindeer to survive the entire winter without eating any food (did you know reindeer capture all the heat in their breath before it leaves their body in order to reduce any energy losses).

I would have liked to see a polar bear when I had a snowmobile to make any needed escape. Now that we are heading to the pole, I’m both hopeful and afraid of actually seeing a polar bear.

Grazing reindeer

Grazing reindeer

Arctic fox in its natural habitat

Arctic fox in its natural habitat

 

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