Why not turn your dreams for 2020 into a reality with an Arctic tour, encountering the Polar Bear…
Inuit culture has celebrated the Nanook, (a north-popularized word for ‘ Polar Bear’), as the master of bears. The Polar Bear was thought to be the overseer of Inuit hunting trips and their success . Polar bears represent importance to the Inuit people of Northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland, and taught the Inuit community the art in succeeding at seal hunting. These communities have deeply rooted, generational respect for the polar bear, acknowledging the strength, courage and spiritual power of the polar bear. Many of these attributes have been called upon by Inuit shaman (angakkuit) who believe they can harness the spirit and power of the polar bear, a power that is believed in Inuit mythology, to shape-shift between the physical body of the polar bear and human.
Are you a lover of Polar bears? Read ahead and find your favorite Arctic tour to encounter the Polar Bear.
10 Facts about Polar Bears
- Despite being mammals that live both on land and in water, Polar bears are considered to be marine animals. 23 000 are estimated to remain.
- Underneath their fur coats, Polar bears have black skin. Their coats are translucent but are seen as white due to reflected visible light in a tundra environment.
- Polar bears are exceptionally strong swimmers. They are able to swim for days at a time and at speeds of up to 10 kilometers per hour.
- Hunting for prey is becoming excessively harder for polar bears, despite it taking up 50% of their time. Statistically, less than 10% of hunts are successful. They have been forced to scavenge or settle for small prey and forage vegetation.
- Polar bear DNA can be extracted from footprints in the snow, containing even, the details of their latest meal consumed. This was discovered using SPYGEN; a service/ research laboratory, specialized in monitoring terrestrial biodiversity DNA.
- Climate change is not the only threat to Polar bear populations. They are vulnerable to oil spills, with little accountability from the lucrative oil and gas industry. This can lead to serious habitat destruction, poisoning upon ingestion and when in contact, reduction of polar bears’ self insulating fur. Polar bears fall victim to ingesting pesticides in prey and subsequently their health deteriorates. Of course the most pressing challenge exists as the rapid rate of ice cap melting, resulting in increased human- bear conflict with hungry bears searching for food on land.
- A more unknown fact about Polar bears is the existence of a polar bear- grizzly bear, referred to as a ‘ Grolar Bear’.However polar bears actually evolved from brown bears approximately 150000, relatively recent in evolutionary development.
- 19 subpopulations of the remaining 23 000 polar Bears exist. However only 10 of these subpopulations have been monitored. The other 9 cannot be accounted for, due to insufficient data.
- Polar Bears are the largest land, carnivorous mammals on earth. Males weighing up to 800kg, twice the size of females and measuring 3 meters in length.
- Their heightened sense of smell allows them to detect prey from up to 10 kilometers away. This sense of smell can even penetrate beneath water or compact snow.
Polar bears can be located across five Arctic countries; The United States ( Alaska), Canada ( Churchill), Russia, Greenland and Norway ( Svalbard). They find home on land and in water. Vast and ever-changing sea ice makes up most of their extensive habitat range which is dependent on the quality of sea ice, and the subsequent availability of prey. Especially seals. In comparison to other carnivores of their size, polar bears do not have territories due to seasonal changes in their sea ice habitat. Their ever-changing habitat may directly impact on their travelling distances for food and how long they may have to fast when searching. Young polar bears may travel up to 1000 kilometers when searching for home apart from their mothers.
Polar bears diet, where possible is of a high-fat content in both ringed and bearded seal fat, however polar bears often have to scavenge for smaller prey.
The Polar bear mating process takes place on sea ice but eggs may only implant in the fall season. For the mother to sustain herself and her cubs, she has to have a high fat percentage throughout a long and challenging ‘ denning season.’ Adult males will accompany the female for a number of days before leaving into a solitary lifestyle.
Polar bears communicate through body highly developed language, vocalizations, and scent markings.
Top countries to see Polar Bears:
Careful management of ecotourism applies to the environmentally sensitive sea ice habitat of polar bears and tours reflect this in compliance when encountering the polar bear.
(Note that tours have to be booked quite some time beforehand, especially those sponsored by international conservation agencies have an 18-month waiting list! So it is very important to do lots of research.)
- Canada( Churchill)
Roughly 60% of the Polar Bear population call Canada home.
The winter months are the best time to see a large number of bears but it is also popular to tour in the late summer months to witness the polar bears roaming the wild coastline. During this time wildflowers are in bloom and there is an active array of animals in search of food. In this time you may see Beluga Whales, wolves and caribou.
An example of a tour program you may anticipate experiencing in Canada:
A spring Polar Bear and Iceberg safari which allows you the opportunity to explore the great beauty of the Arctic wilderness. 7-9 day tours that offer local guides facilitating the chance to get as close as possible to polar bears in their natural environment for an experience of a lifetime. Tours may include fly-in safari ,boat cruises, Hudson Bay bear migration drives, arctic cabin stay and recreational activities. The town’s western Hudson Bay location supports a rich marine ecosystem that promotes a healthy population of seals, the polar bears’ primary food.
- Norway ( Svalbard)
One of the Northernmost areas to witness world wonders of glaciers,and of course the Polar Bears that grace the breathtaking setting; The Svalbard Archipelago, situated in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Norway, is one of the few places where you can see Polar Bears in the wild. The Svalbard area Polar Bear population has been steadily growing and the estimated population is approximately 3,500.
In addition to Polar Bear tours, visitors to Norway can experience; The Aurora Borealis/ ‘The Northern Lights’ (November to February) – Arctic cruise, Snowmobiling or dog-sledding, Glacier Hiking hike with jaw-dropping views of Norwegian fjords and mountains, and kayaking, and witnessing the astonishing wildlife. Svalbard offers many different types of activities to enjoy in addition to the polar bear tours.
The cruise takes place during a summer month period of 24- hour daylight. It is then guaranteed to see wildlife at any time. Temperatures at this time can range from 3-7 degrees celsius( June-August).
Norway has all of this and more to offer you.
50 degrees North Tours
National geographic Expeditions
Two Alaskan communities, Kaktovik and Utqiagvik, offer limited opportunities for polar bear viewing. Popularly, trips to visit the Inuit village Of Kaktovik are offered for tourists to view the waters of the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge(ANWR). This is the best place to view Polar Bears in Alaska and is generally conducted by cruise tour, where a safe and responsible distance is kept between visitors and the Polar Bear in its natural habitat. Included may be the opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis ( weather dependent).
Whichever destination you choose, you will have an experience of a lifetime and memories to cherish. Tourists come for the Polar Bears, but they end up learning about the community, the indigenous culture, and the environmental issues affecting the region.
Encountering The Polar Bear: what to expect/ pack
The best thing to remember when packing for your trip to the Arctic is layers! It may be a good idea to pack waterproof and thermal clothing that can keep you warm during the subzero temperature lows.
NB information to consider when Booking tours:
Unfortunately all encounters with Polar Bears are weather dependent and this may affect any itinerary. Due to unpredictable weather, the transportation to remote wilderness is prevented, where most rural communities have limited commercial air service. This might result in unforeseen extra costs or lengthened waiting periods therefore travel insurance is highly advised. It is also important to take into consideration that bear sighting is not guaranteed for it is the wild arctic. Many tours also require a minimum number of participants so it is helpful to make plans accordingly beforehand.
Relationship between polar bears and humans:
Due to the ever-changing and compromised sea ice habitat of the Polar Bears, interaction between human communities and Polar Bears has understandably increased. These changes have to be accommodated in a sustainable structure to protect livelihoods of both Polar Bears and humans. Polar Bears have been an integral part of indigenous arctic culture for up to 150 000 years. Hunting of Polar Bears is still part of a subsistence and traditional Inuit lifestyle, however hunts are now strictly monitored to ensure populations that already face endangerment, are becoming stable or increasing in the future.
Conservation status per country:
|International Status: Vulnerable|
|Canada: Special concern|
|Greenland & Denmark: Vulnerable|
|United States: Threatened|
Due to the rapid rate at which ice caps are melting, it is estimated that Polar Bear populations will struggle to find food. (The bears that come here are climate refugees, on land because the sea ice they rely on for hunting seals is receding.)
There may currently be about 23,000 polar bears worldwide, but without action on climate change, predictions of further decline in Polar Bear numbers by mid-century remain a forefront concern.
What can you do?
Polar bear’s dwindling habitat has become globally synonymous with the urgency of climate change. However the practice of Polar Bear/ Arctic ecotourism is just as important… Adaptive management in places like Churchill, Manitoba work to ensure that recreational activities don’t have a negative impact on Polar Bears and other Arctic wildlife. It is important to support conservation efforts where possible and to always comply with tour regulations when encountering wildlife.
Create awareness concerning Polar Bear’s threatened status by forming a connection through Polar Bears that have even been given personalized names. Follow their movements and allow this to inspire you to be actively involved in sustainable practices to lessen the overall rate of global warming affecting unique habitats of special wildlife.
When you adopt a Polar bear you will be helping to make sure the Arctic food chain stays stable for the benefit of wildlife and people in and beyond the Arctic. By 2050, Polar bear numbers may decline by 30% due to the rapid loss of sea ice. Any support towards managing the rate of sea ice loss will allow for the Polar Bear population to stabilize or be monitored and protected in larger scale conservation and tracking efforts.
Become a WWF member:
Keep in touch with wildlife from around the world, where your donations play an important role in sustaining conservation efforts and you can play a part in funding world wildlife.
The Polar Bears attract thousands of tourists to the Arctic each year. 60% of the population can be found in Canada where they have originated from over 150000 years ago. Currently only 23000 are known to exist and that is why it is so important to practice ecotourism and prepare for the loss of their habitat.