Polar bear spotting in the Arctic

In the northernmost part of the world, where the ice is thick and the air is cold, there lives a creature. Laying your eyes on a polar bear is just an adventure away.

3 mins read

Polar Bear, Svalbard

Enormous, powerful and majestic, the polar bear finds its home among the snowfall and the ice drifts. Because its habitat is relatively difficult to reach, polar bears are hard to spot - few people have actually gotten a chance to see this beautiful animal in nature. Looking for a chance to join the ranks that have? 

Polar bear physiology

There are probably a few things you didn't know about the polar bear. However, you might know that they live in the circumpolar north, also known as the Arctic Circle. Although they're often pictured alongside penguins, polar bears and penguins, which live in the Southern Hemisphere, would never meet in nature. Instead, polar bears share a habitat with seals, arctic foxes and reindeer.

They're built for their habitat - their thick, white fur works as insulation and camouflage, and underneath they have black skin that soaks up the sun's rays. They also have a thick layer of fat that helps them retain body heat. Polar bears are strong swimmers, with slightly webbed paws that help them move through the water.

Polar bears are gigantic, even for bears - they're the world's largest land predators, and can weigh up to 1000 kilos. They have no natural enemies.

Polar bear lifestyle

Many people have the misconception that polar bears hibernate. They don't; in fact, technically no bears do. Hibernation requires a reduction in body temperature. Because bears are so big, it takes a lot of energy to reduce or increase their body temperature: more than they'd conserve by hibernating in the first place.

However, bears - polar bears included - are significantly less active during the colder months. For female polar bears that aren't pregnant and male polar bears, this simply means sleeping more and moving less. Pregnant polar bears will enter a den, and actually give birth during the winter. While in their den, they enter a hibernation-like state where their heat and metabolic rates decrease, but their body temperatures remains stable. This allows the mother to conserve energy while still being relatively alert.

Because of this inactive period, summer is the best time of year to spot polar bears. From June to September, bears are up and ready to go. They spend most of their time looking for food, which mainly consists of seals. Polar bears will sit by the holes in the ice where seals are likely to surface for air, and wait for their next meal to arrive. Although seals are their favorite, they're opportunists - they're happy to eat any carcasses they happen to stumble upon.

Polar bear locations

Norway's position relative to the Arctic Circle makes it an excellent place to search for polar bears. During their active season, polar bears travel further south to find the ice drifts that attract seals. If you know where to go, your odds of catching a glimpse go way up.

Svalbard is a small, Norwegian island with an incredibly high density of polar bears. In fact, the chances of running into a polar bear on Svalbard are so high, tourists are warned not to leave settlements without a guide at any time. Provided you're traveling safely, however, this part of the world is the perfect place to spot these creatures.

The eastern coast of Svalbard has a particularly high bear population. This makes it the ideal place to observe these animals in the wild. Depending on when you see them, you might get a chance to see them hunt, travel or - if there are cubs around - maybe even play.