Climate change has caused sea levels to rise as sea ice melts. With polar bears spending most of their lives on the ice of the Arctic Ocean their future survival has become a huge threat. Since polar bears were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 it’s no wonder that the desire to see our furry friends has increased dramatically.
Polar bears are only found in the Arctic. They are distributed throughout the region in sub populations with the most popular sightings in Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway. Seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild is a life changing and powerful experience but polar bear tourism is not without its challenges. With climate change being the major risk factor it can be argued that the carbon emissions created from increased tourism is counterproductive to their future survival. That's why it is so important to plan your trip with credited tourism boards that appreciate the necessity of safeguarding their fragile environment. As a tourist it is vital also to observe them in a safe environment so as not to disturb them. Here are some of our picks for the best polar bear viewings.
Known as the polar bear capital of the world, hundreds of polar bears gather around Hudson Bay at the end of the summer months as they wait for the sea ice to refreeze. The area is known for its accessibility for polar bear viewings and has a well-established tourism industry which can be relatively inexpensive. As curious animals they often approach vehicles to suss us out and many have come face to face with these majestic creatures.
Depending on the nature of your trip the best time to go for more sightings would be mid-September to the end of November when the Hudson Bay would usually refreeze allowing the bears to get back on the ice and hunt for seals. It is also popular in the summer months to combine your trip with beluga whale watching or in March when you may be lucky enough to watch mother bears emerge from their dens with their cubs.
We recommend Natural Habitat Adventures for your polar bear tour leaders of responsible travel and ecotourism.
The majority of the viewings are boat based where local captains organise intimate boat tours providing a safe and close sighting for you to create those perfect photos. The polar bears, lured to the area to feast on the meat of bowhead whales, can be spotted in large groups of various ages. A perfect opportunity to watch them in all of their social glory from wrestling in the water to lazing around on the barrier islands.
Another option to view the majestic beasts is by car. There are often large groups of bears feeding together during twilight hours. This makes for a very beautifully picturesque moment.
Due to its isolation, Kaktovik has also held onto to its Eskimo traditions. A perfect opportunity for you to get an insight into thelife of an Eskimo in the Artic.
Specialising in personalised Artic adventures we recommend Akook Artic Adventures. Run by a local who grew up traveling and living along the arctic land and sea you will also be educated on the biology of the polar bears and the dramatic effects of changing sea ice conditions.
Northern reaches of Svalbard offer stunning fjords, a beautiful display of mountain peaks, glaciers and icy-landscapes. The biggest attraction though is the chance to see our furry friends in their glory. Although out on the ice during winter months the polar bears live in Svalbard all year round. Bears stuck on land, having missed the departure of ice can be seen roaming the shores in search for food.
Summer is the best time for viewings when the ice starts to melt allowing ships to access the northern waters where the polar bears are. Aside from this the chance to see seals, artic foxes and an array of birdlife makes the trip worthwhile.
In the winter months snowmobile tours depart from Longyearbyen allowing for bears to sometimes be seen from a distance. Whilst this may be a cheaper option it is not always preferable as sightings are not guaranteed.
We recommend touring with Responsible Travel where you will be guided by a specialist with knowledge of the area. They also travel responsibly and protect the vulnerable wildlife as well as make efforts to save energy and water.
Wrangel Island, Russia
Filled with Artic biodiversity, Wrangel Island is known as the maternity ward for polar bears. A perfect opportunity to watch the adorable cubs as several mothers venture here during the winter to raise their young.
Tours are often organised by boat departing from the Russian port of Anadyr. Take advantage of the variety of wildlife on offer including grey whales, reindeer and walrus as well as a vast majority of other artic animals.
Touring with Heritage Expeditions allows you to be guided by experts in an intimate setting of a 50 max guest cruise. With a mission to increase awareness and conservation of the natural world through responsible travel you can be rest assured that you are traveling sustainably.
Main picture: Wikimedia.org
Picture 1: Ecowatch.com
Picture 2: Sciencemag.org
Picture 3: Wikimedia.org
Picture 4: The Polar Bear Programme Rusia