To see a polar bear striding far out across a wilderness of Arctic ice is one of the most moving experiences nature can offer. Polar bears have a special attraction – because of their size and strength, the loneliness of their lives and the peculiar, unpredictable fragility of the beautiful landscape they inhabit. Says naturalist, Stephen Mills: “My own unforgettable polar bear sightings have all been amongst the ice-floes around Svalbard. This is the best place in the world to see them. More remote and romantic and less commercial than Churchill, the region still supports a strong population of several thousand individuals.” Svalbard is 500 miles from the North Pole, and the closest place for you to observe these magnificent creatures and other Arctic specialties in the wild. The only entirely terrestrial mammal is the Spitsbergen Reindeer.
Other mammals found here rely in part or entirely on the sea – Arctic fox, polar bear, walrus, bearded, harp and ringed seals. Several whale species are found in the waters and huge colonies of seabirds nest on the islands and sea cliffs -minke whale, Greenland whale, blue whale, fin whale, common and king eider, pink-footed goose, kittiwake, ivory gull, Brunnich’s Guillemot. The best Arctic experience is observing polar bears from the smallest 1A icebreaker vessels that can sail in to remote pack ice far away from any human habitation and other ships. Walking out on to the tundra and navigating around ice floes in Zodiacs for close up encounters with walruses and seals encapsulates life on the edge. The best time of year to see polar bears off northern Svalbard is June, when the ice is receding and there is 24 hours daylight – a unique experience in itself.