Polar Bear Sighting!!

Svalbard Travel Blog

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8th July:

The last evening in Virgohamna was fantastic. Once again we are so lucky with the weather at present.

Anchor up again and on the move, the plan being a passage to Woodfjorden which is on the north coast of Spitsbergen.

This was to be the most memorable day of the trip by far. Everyone was starting to wonder if Mr. Polar bear would show his face at all. Our guide told us that basically the further north we are to go the more chance we have of spotting one.

Woodfjorden is a beautiful long Fjord with Islands in the centre. We sighted a couple of large reindeer on the shore but still no bears. We knew this was going to be one of the last chances of the trip as its Sunday and the boss leaves on Tuesday.

Then at about 1500 in the afternoon most of us were gathered on the bridge numerous pairs of binocs scouring the shore and the little Islands when a shout came from Steve our dive instructor: “Tor Tor” (Tor’s our guide) “I think I got one, I think I got one.” Tor was straight over to confirm that Steve had sighted a large Polar at about nearly two miles, good eyes. Straight off pretty much all of us had lost the bet as to who would be first to spot one, Steve was definitely not the favourite!!

So there it was, pretty amazing. We could see him pretty clearly through the binocs moving slowly along the shoreline of one of the small islands in the Fjord. A few minutes later after much binoc passing we decided that with the flat water we could get away with launching the tender in order to get a closer look and a few photos. It must have been the quickest and most efficient launches we’ve ever done; in about two minutes I was driving the tender towards the Island with Duncan, Steve and the boss’s son and his partner. Steve and Dunc had all the camera technology you can imagine on board, hence the great pics!!

The thing that is very important when approaching the bear was that we did not interfere or scare him in any way. If he gets scared he is liable to run and run and overheat and keel over, not what we wanted to see. As we got closer therefore I slowed right down. The island he was on was covered in birds and he was eating out of their nests by the looks of it. Infact some of the birds were “dive bombing” at him from a great height to try and put him off but it didn’t phase him one bit, he kept on munching!! He definitely looked very well fed with Tor estimating him to be around the 700 kg mark!! Totally an amazing sight. I’m not afraid to admit that getting within a couple of hundred metres of an animal like that in the wild is very much an experience that gives you goose bumps and causes the hair to stand up in the back of your neck!

Even though we were very slightly upwind, he did show that he knew were there when he paused from eating and raised his nose into the air in our direction. He could definitely smell human and perhaps was getting excited about something more substantial for dinner!! I am very glad there was water between us and him and 420 horses underneath us!!

As time went on he wondered around in front of us with not a care in the world, you could tell he is very much in charge up here. It is actually very hard to imagine him moving very fast but they can reach alarming speeds which is what makes them so dangerous.

Once again a truly phenomenal experience and the highlight of our trip so far for sure.

After 20 minutes or so it was back to ship and onto our anchorage for the night. It so happened it was Kevin’s birthday (our captain). Not every birthday you get to see a polar bear in the wild!! Our anchorage again was unreal at the head of Bockfjorden, one of the few places were there is still active volcanism with thermal springs ashore. We celebrated both the bear sighting and Kev’s birthday and some people went ashore to check out the springs.

What an unreal day!!

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