Whilst you won’t see a Polar bear (Isbjørn in Norwegian) walking down the streets of Oslo or Stockholm (unless they have escaped from a zoo!) you can see Polar bears on Svalbard (Norway).
Photo: T. Simonsen
Where is Svalbard?
The Svalbard archipelago is the northern most part of Norway, though it is around 500 miles off the northern shore of Norway. Svalbard can be found between Norway and the North Pole deep within the Arctic Circle. There is little vegetation on and Svalbard and much of it is covered by glacier and bare rock. During the summer it has constant daylight and during the winter the sun never rises above the horizon.
The Polar bear is the largest species of bear it is also the most carnivorous, their diet consists mainly of seals though they are opportunists and will eat whale carcasses and other carrion and have been known to rifle through a dust bin (in human populated areas) when really hungry.
There are thought to 20,000 – 25,000 polar bears around the world; it is thought that at least 500 polar bear on Svalbard and 1,900-3,600 polar bears in the Svalbard area and the Barents Sea. They are usually found on the coast around areas of pack ice and ice floes.
I have heard Polar bears aren’t really white!?
Whilst Polar bears appear to be white or off white to yellow their skin is actually black and their fur is actually almost completely transparent. They appear white because their hollow guard hairs reflect all coloured spectrums of light.
Are polar bears friendly?
Polar bears may look cute and cuddly but like any other bear or wild animal can be aggressive towards humans; especially when they have cubs and/or are hungry. There have been cases of Polar bears attacking humans but it usually only happens when the bear’s food supply is low and they have been attracted to areas where humans are by the smell of food; which they can smell from as far away as 20miles, they can even smell a seal pup through 3 feet of snow from around half a mile away!
Do Polar bears hibernate?
Male polar bears and none pregnant females are active all year round and do not hibernate though if the weather is really bad they may den for a short period of time. In the winter pregnant females make a maternity den usually in snow drifts. They stay in these dens for 3 months until they emerge in the spring having given birth to, usually, 2 cubs. During the time they are in the den they are not really hibernating, there heart rate does slow but there body temperature remains constant.
How thick is a Polar bear’s coat?
A polar bear’s coat is very thick! They have a thick woolly under layer of fur and a layer of guard hairs, which are stiff and hollow. Their coat can be 2.5 – 5cm thick. Polar bears moult in the spring time.
Are Polar bears vain?
Polar bear can spend up to 20 minutes grooming themselves after they have eaten to make sure they are free of dirt, however, this is not because they are worried about what other Polar bear might think of them! Polar bears clean themselves so thoroughly to make sure their fur remains water repellent and insulating.
Are Polar bears marine mammals?
Polar bears spend a lot of their time on the ice floes out at sea; they have been found almost 100miles away from land! They are brilliant swimmers; they can swim at speeds of up to 6miles per hour and have been known to swim for 60 miles at a time. When swimming a Polar bear will close it’s nostrils to prevent them from getting water up their nose! These abilities mean that Polar bears are often considered to be marine mammals however they do spend time on land during the summer when the pack ice and sea ice are reduced.
Do Polar bears cover their nose when hunting?
It is said that you can see a Polar bear’s nose from almost 6 miles away on a clear day if using binoculars. As Polar bears are so well camouflaged it had been suggested that their black nose would give away their presence when hunting and that coving their nose would allow them to sneak up on their unsuspecting prey. However over years of study no one has ever seen a Polar bear cover its nose whilst hunting!
Do polar bears use tools when hunting, like blocks of ice?
No, Polar bears do not use tools when hunting; they usually hunt by waiting silently by a seal hole and then when a seal surfaces they pounce and bite at the seals head. However if a hunt does not end successfully Polar bears can become grumpy and have been seen kicking at snow, slapping the ground and throwing ice!
Our Midnight Sun Dog Sledding in Svalbard experience takes you deep into the land of the Polar Bear. Seeing polar bears is not a focus of the tour, though bears are sometimes seen during the expedition and the tour also offers very good chance to see seals.