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Polar bear - The King of the Arctic

Polar bear - The King of the Arctic

One of the largest carnivores in the world

Polar Bear, The King of the Arctic

The polar bear – also known as the King of the Arctic – is one of the world’s largest carnivores. The polar bear population in the Svalbard archipelago and Barents Sea is around 3,000, which exceeds the human population. On it says that «In August 2015, a survey of the Norwegian subpopulation estimated almost 1000 polar bears. Of these a little less than 300 were located in Svalbard – most of them close to the ice edge.»

The polar bear is considered a marine mammal as it spends most of its life on the drifting sea ice. Polar bear sightings are most common on the surrounding islands east of Spitsbergen, but you should be prepared to encounter a polar bear anywhere in Svalbard. Female polar bears give birth to their cubs in snow caves, and the cubs generally remain with their mother until they are around two years old. Their diet consists primarily of ringed seal, which is the most common seal species in the waters surrounding Svalbard.


Roy MangersnesAdult polar bears vary in size from 200 to 800 kg. Humans are considered alien in the polar bear habitat, and a polar bear may see us as potential prey. The polar bear is incredibly strong and even cubs weighing under 100 kg can be extremely aggressive and dangerous.

You can encounter polar bears anywhere in Svalbard all year round. Be cautious when moving outside the settlements and preferably be accompanied by a local guide. The polar bear has been protected by international law since 1973. It is considered a criminal act to hunt, lure, pursue, feed or disturb a polar bear. Anyone who blatantly violates this provision will face strict penalties.

How to avoid confrontations with polar bears

It’s important to prepare well and think in advance about how to act in the Svalbard nature. We strongly recommend going on an organised trip. However, if you choose to explore alone, the following points are extremely important:

• Be extremely observant and try to move only in open areas.
• If you see a polar bear, retreat calmly and never pursue it!
• Most polar bear visits are at camps. Find a location with a good view in all directions and, if there are several in your group, sit facing different directions.
• Avoid setting up camp near the seashore as the water and ice edge are natural places for polar bears to search for food.
• Set up tripwires around your camp. Polar bear watch (someone always awake) is regarded as the only safe strategy when it comes to camping in the outdoors.
• Store food away from tents but within view of the tent opening.
• Avoid cooking inside your tent as the smell remains on the canvas and may attract polar bears.
• Arm yourself correctly. A high powered big game rifle (7.62, 30.06 or 308 calibre) and a signal pistol are the best weapons for protection against polar bears.
• Ensure you have knowledge of the weapons and experience using them before you set off.

There are no “polar bear safaris”

Polar bears are an endangered species and are protected by law. This means there are no polar bear safaris, chases or similar in Svalbard. However, polar bears can be anywhere in Svalbard. In winter, polar bears can be found throughout the entire archipelago, while in summer they generally follow the sea ice and migrate north-eastwards. Things can change, so you must take precautions if you are heading out of Longyearbyen.

Frede LamoUnfortunately, it’s impossible to state when the best time is to spot polar bears. Polar bears roam freely throughout the archipelago without any limitations, and can cover long distances in just a few days. It’s difficult to predict the best places to see them, but obviously the longer you spend in Svalbard, the better your chances of seeing polar bears. We recommend going on organised tours because the guides have extensive knowledge of Svalbard and will look after your safety out in the field.

The greatest chance of seeing polar bears and other wildlife is on an expedition cruise around Svalbard in summer. These cruises last 3-11 days and take you to remote parts of the archipelago, such as the pack ice where polar bears hunt seals.

Hurtigruten Svalbard, Arctic Wildlife Tours and WildPhoto Travel do all run expedition cruises. We can also recommend visiting the website of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) - – where you can read about these trips and see a list of expedition cruise providers.

Curious animals

Polar bears often approach humans out of curiosity. However, it’s important to treat all polar bears as threatening. If a polar bear walks towards you, make yourself visible early and try to scare it away by shouting, clapping your hands or waiving your arms around. Load your firearm. Fire a shot with your signal pistol into the ground in front of the polar bear or a warning shot with a rifle if the polar bear is within 50 metres.

Learn more about this beautiful animal on the Norwegian Polar Institute’s website.
Source: The Governor of Svalbard

For more information about polar bears, please visit the Governor of Svalbard’s website.

Do you want to be better prepared for your Svalbard adventure? Read the Svalbard Guidelines and the Longyearbyen Community Guidelines.

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