Polar Bears in Norway
Have you always dreamed of observing or photographing the King of the Arctic, the Polar Bear in its natural habitat? The Svalbard archipelago off the mainland of Norway is an ideal place for an adventure in the arctic summer. Here are some of the most frequent questions answered.
Norway is one of the few places in the world where you can see polar bears out in the wild, in the Svalbard Archipelago north of the mainland in the Arctic Ocean. There are approximately 20,000-25,000 polar bears left in the world (2008 estimate) and they are considered to be threatened species, mainly due to the climate change and the following loss of natural habitat. Polar bears can also be found in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia.
In the Svalbard area, polar bear population has been steadily growing and the estimated population is approximately 3,500. Large number of polar bears reside in the islands east of Spitsbergen, the only permanently populated island in Svalbard, but polar bears can be encountered anywhere in the area.
The best period to travel to Norway and Svalbard to see the polar bears runs from June to September. With the midnight sun, when the sun doesn’t set below the horizon line, the arctic starts slowly melting making it possible to navigate through the archipelago. As there is less pack ice than in the winter months, polar bears tend to be in more concentrated areas.
In the winter, the archipelago ices over and polar bears are far out on the sea hunting for seals, and with the darkness of the polar night it is next impossible to reach or observe them.
There are many different ways to explore the areas in Norway and Svalbard where you may see polar bears in their natural habitat. Although polar bear sightings are frequent, they are not guaranteed, but the stunning scenery and exotic Arctic wildlife guarantee that nobody goes home disappointed.
Meeting polar bears around Longyearbyen is rare. Once in a while one can past the town, but most often only footprints will prove there was a polar bear around.
Polar Bear Safari:
Polar bears are wild animals, and they are protected by law. This means that there are no polar bear safaris or similar available on Svalbard. On day safaris out of Longyearbyen, travelling on land or by boat, you will be unlikely to see polar bears. Some of the longer snowmobile tours might observe polar bears in their natural habitat and you will also get a chance to encounter other wild animals natural to the region, and learn all about the flora and fauna of these islands. These safari trips are very limited, early in the season and are the least likely option available for spotting a polar bear.
Boat trips are usually day trips, where you travel from point A to B or enjoy a leisurely return cruise with stunning views of bird cliffs and majestic glacial ice walls. Many day trips include a lunch, but do check your tour details for more information. These boat tours also offer limited chance for spotting a polar bear.
Expedition Cruise: These cruises usually last at least a week, and you will have a chance to reach the land for exciting excursions and hikes using rubber dinghies each day. These expedition cruises provide you with the greatest chance of seeing a polar bear as they take you around Svalbard, from the North and East of Spitsbergen during the summer (July and August). Polar bears are generally found in areas of sea ice, where they can hunt their favourite prey, the ring seal.
NOTE: It is illegal to follow the polar bears or otherwise try to find them. If you come across one on your trip, you can of course observe it from a safe distance, but you are not allowed to disturb one (say, by driving close by with a snowmobile).
For ideas and inspiration see our tours to Svalbard for your next adventure.
Have something else in mind? Contact our Scandinavian staff who will make a tailor-made itinerary to suit your requirements.