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Polar Bear Day

Polar Bear Day

We’ve been on the ship Plancius for four days now. After we took off in Longyearbyen, we sailed north in the direction of the pack ice. On the first day I saw already a species that was a huge target for me, the largest animal on this earth: blue whale! The birds are also coming along nicely, photographing flyby puffins is a challenge but it gets easier. Today is the day that we should arrive at the pack ice and that means a big possibility that we will see the main target of the trip: polar bear!

That’s why I’m already up at 6.00 in the morning to scan the surroundings with the telescope, we can already see the pack ice in front of us, but it’s still far away. While I’m scanning the area, suddenly I see something small and yellow moving slowly over the ice. That looks like a Polar Bear! After a few moments I see that it is indeed a Polar Bear: my first Polar Bear and self-found! Now we hope that it will wait for us. Slowly the ship sails closer and after a short while we can take the first ‘less is more’ pictures. Luckily the bear doesn’t walk away. When after a while the ship touches the ice, we are able to take nice pictures of the bear. If this turns out to be our only sighting of a bear, I could live with it!

It turns out to be the start of a great Polar Bear day. On the pack ice in front of us where we saw our first bear are no less than eight Polar Bears to be seen, among which a mother with a small cub. Sadly all are pretty far away. During the rest of the day we see quite regularly more Polar Bears. At the end of the afternoon we see a Polar Bear trying to sneak up on a seal (without success) and we also come across a nice big male Walrus that shows itself well on an ice floe. When we are finally at the dining table, the day count stands at a total of a whopping eighteen Polar Bears: a very big number that is beyond our wildest dreams!

The day is not over yet. When you are sailing between ice floes in the Arctic, you can always encounter a bear! Shortly after dinner comes a message from the bridge that straight in front of us three Polar Bears are walking together. It’s a big bear with two smaller ones. A mother with two cubs we think at first. Slowly we get closer and the bears are also walking towards us, so at a certain moment they are so close that I have to do my best to still get the whole bear on the photo because I can’t zoom out my prime 400mm: a luxury problem! Thr big bear is mooing in the direction of the smaller ones, while they walk around our ship. This great experience lasts for about a half hour, bears close to the ships, minding their own business. We notice that the smaller bears seem to want to move away from the bigger one. Suddenly one of the bears turns around and attacks the larger animal while loudly growling. It does not turn into a fight, because the smaller bear would definitely have lost that battle. It looks they don’t get along really well after all.

Of course we are ecstatic, you hope for these kind of sightings, but you certainly can’t count on them! The situation however appears to have been different to what we initially thought. It’s not a mother with two cubs, but a full grown male a full grown female and a cub! That also explains the aggressive behaviour of the mother towards the male. It’s really strange that a male is already chasing a female that is still taking care of a cub. The guides tell us that there are already some research results that indicate that the hormones of female Polar Bears are influenced because of plastic in the water. That could explain this situation. If this is indeed true it shows that plastic has even more negative consequences than might appear at first glance.

For us it is a great way to conclude a great day. The next days we will see more polar bears, among which a bear with a prey, many Ivory Gulls, a whole lot of Thick-billed Murres and the absolute mammalcracker of the trip: Bowhead Whale! On top of that we come home with a stunning total of 26 polar bears: the Polar bear special lived up to its name!

Do you want to read more about the birds of Spitsbergen? Click here!

For the tripreport, go to Mammalwatching.com


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