See Amazing Wildlife on a Polar Bear Watching Adventure
Graceful, majestic, fierce, cuddly – the polar bear holds a vivid place in the human imagination. Yet few people ever see these creatures in their natural habitat, despite the fact that plenty of opportunities exist via polar bear watching tours. A polar bear trip is an excellent way to learn about and form a bond with this endangered species. Keep in mind though that wild polar bears live only in the Northern Hemisphere’s Arctic.
Polar Bear Trips to Russia’s Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island is sometimes called the ‘Polar Bear Maternity Ward’ because of the number of the number of cubs born there. Just west of Alaska, this Russian nature preserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its wildlife – making it an excellent place to go for a polar bear safari. According to UNESCO, the island has the highest density of ancestral polar bear dens in the world. It also has the largest population of Pacific Walrus, is an important feeding ground for gray whales, and is a nesting ground for over 100 migratory bird species.
Companies such as the Steppes Travel Group and ResponsibleTravel offer polar bear tours to Wrangel Island. Both companies hold their polar bear trips in August with the adventure starting in Alaska.
Go Polar Bear Watching in Spitsbergen, Norway
Board a ship and embark on a polar bear adventure to Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island in the arctic Svalbard archipelago. After sailing past massive glaciers and through icy fjords visitors finally arrive in the land of the midnight sun to go polar bear watching amidst puffins and walruses. According to the tour group PolarQuest, Spitsbergen is home to over 3,000 polar bears. Tour groups use small ships with icebreakers to navigate around the island. PolarQuest operates its polar bear safari from June through September.
Find a Polar Bear Safari in Alaska, USA
Two polar bear populations exist in Alaska according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service on its “Marine Mammals Management” web page. The South Beaufort Sea population consists of about 1,500 bears that travel in and out of Canada while the Chuckchi/Bering Sea population has about 2,000 bears traveling in and out of Russia. Polar bear tours can be easily found traveling out of Fairbanks, Alaska via van or helicopter. According to the tour group Arctic Air Expeditions visitors have the best chance to see polar bears in October and November.
Visit the Polar Bear Capital of the World in Canada
The town of Churchill in Canada’s province of Manitoba calls itself the “Polar Bear Capital” for a good reason. This remote town on the shore of Hudson Bay lies smack in the middle of a polar bear migration route – meaning over 1,000 polar bears gather around the town’s borders every year. PBS explains in its web article “Polar Bear Invasion” that the hungry bears must wait for the Bay to refreeze before they can set out again to hunt the main component of their diet, seal.
Although no polar bear tour operator can guarantee a sighting, Churchill likely offers the best chance a person can get. Numerous polar bear trips are conducted by a variety of guides. According to the Town of Churchill’s website most polar bear tours occur from early-October to mid-November. However, polar bear trips fill up fast and the town suggests booking up to a year in advance. As PBS warns, roughly 15,000 tourists arrive for polar bear tours each year.
Respecting the Endangered Polar Bear
Although polar bears may look cuddly they are wild animals and the world’s largest land carnivore. So be sure to maintain a safe distance from the bears and follow all safety precautions suggested by the polar bear tour operators. Also keep in mind that polar bear populations are declining in many parts of the world. According to the IUCN the polar bear is a vulnerable species and could benefit from greater conservation efforts.