Polar Bears- The Natives of Svalbard

Halfway between Norway and the North Pole lies the archipelago of Svalbard, with unworldly icy landscapes, beautiful fjords, and a large, sustainable population of wildlife, including the largest land predator around: the majestic polar bear.


Unknown to humanity til 1596, the true natives of Svalbard are its plentiful wildlife. Well within the Arctic Circle, Svalbard does not offer great species diversity, but there are huge populations of native animals that number into the thousands. With an estimated population of 3,000 individuals, Svalbard often has more polar bears living on and around Svalbard than people. Today, Spitsbergen, the largest island, has the northernmost major population center on Earth- the town of Longyearbyen. Despite the proximity to the North Pole, Svalbard actually has a relatively mild climate compared to other locations at a similar latitudes.


Polar bears have long been a popular reason for tourists to visit Svalbard. Acting as a sanctuary for Arctic animals, including polar bears, specialist tour operators have many opportunities to safely arrange guided tours and safaris to see these playful hunters in their home. Svalbard is the land of the midnight sun as between April and August there is 24 hours of daylight. With glaciers covering over 60% of Svalbard, the terrain offers an incredible landscapes and provides the ice floes preferred by polar bears for hunting during the summer months. A true treat is to see polar bears feasting on the carcass of a whale, best observed in summer.

Crafty Hunters

Polar bears live exclusively in the icy climates of the Arctic. Ideally suited to the frigid temperatures, their protective outer fur coat and dense layer of fat help them stay warm. Although their fur appears white, it is actually transparent. The hollow shafts of hair reflect light much like ice does, making polar bears appear white or even yellow. Black skin underneath that thick fur absorbs the Sun’s warmth.

Feeding almost exclusively on ringed and bearded seals, Polar bears rely on sturdy pack ice for hunting, denning, and mating. They need to be patient as they wait next to a seal’s breathing hole in the ice in order to catch their prey. The best time to see polar bears is between May and September, with some trips allowing you to spot as many as 20 individuals. Polar bears often live 25- 30 years.

A Playful Bunch

Bears are known by biologists for being quite crafty and among the smartest animals in the world. Polar bears are everywhere on Svalbard, yet like all bears they are potentially dangerous. They look playful when they wrestle each other and slide down the ice but do not be fooled, these events play an important part of practicing and honing the skills that make them such efficient and deadly hunters.

In Svalbard it is illegal to go outside of the town limits without a rifle and the knowledge of how to use it properly against polar bears. Svalbard is not a zoo, this is the natural habitat and home to polar bears. Specialist tour/safari operators are prepared and have the requisite permits/training needed to safely guide you around Svalbard in order to see the primal beauty and power of these majestic bears.

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