Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Nothing says "High Arctic" like the sighting of a POLAR BEAR (Ursus maritimus).
Icon in an extreme environment, poster species for global warming, the Polar Bear lives in a world that straddles land and sea.
Polar Bears are primarily marine creatures, living in a world of sea and ice, depending largely on seals for their prey.
From the safety of our ship or Zodiac, we shall search for polar bears on Shearwater Journeys' three charter expeditions to Svalbard. Enjoying all the comforts of home in our cozy cabins, or venturing on deck — where, even there, we may have close encounters with the Master of the North. (On shore landings, our Expedition Leader will carefully scan for Polar Bears prior to going ashore. He will carry a rifle, just in case).
I've been told that the ship, M/S Stockholm seems to be a "polar bear attractant" — bears coming so close at times, that guests must relocate to the upper decks!
While Polar Bears are a major focus of our voyage, we'll also be searching for seabirds, whales, seals and walrus.
The images above, copyright Lisa Strim, Adam Rheborg. Image below, copyright, Morten Joergensen. Please do not use without permission.
Images, below to the end, all copyright, Debi Shearwater. These images were made in Churchill, Canada. The Polar Bear has a small, triangular head set on top of a long neck. It has a roman nose, small eyes, and short, round, furry ears.
The massive body encased in a thick layer of blubber. It has white fur throughout the year in aid of cryptic coloration - camouflage. The long guard hairs form a watertight outer coat over a soft and fluffy undercoat which traps a layer of air against the skin; this allows it to swim well without getting wet to the skin.
Its long legs are covered with dense fur and its large feet are covered with fine hair even to the toes and the soles are densely hairy.
Polar Bears are solitary by nature, although they may gather in numbers to feed on prey. They court in the spring, but after copulation in the summer, the male takes no further part in the process. Implantation is delayed, and the female takes to a den excavated in the snow in late October. One, sometimes two, helplessly weak cubs are born in the den in December. They are blind and almost naked, but their diet of rich milk — 30% butterfat — means that by the time the mother breaks free in April, the cubs have increased from birth weight of 1.5 lbs. to 25 lbs. At this time, conveniently, Ringed Seals have given birth and are at their most abundant and most vulnerable.
The mother will take care of her cubs, teaching them to hunt, for two years before she abandons them to make her own way over the ice and seas. Starvation is the commonest cause of mortality in the first couple of years after the cubs are abandoned. Females breed only once every two years.
Polar Bear hunting was banned in Svalbard in 1973 after 100 years of intensive exploitation. The population has made a significant recovery. Some Polar Bears are killed each year in Svalbard in defense of people or property. These encounters between man and bear have increased in recent years
"The polar bear is a noble-looking animal and of enormous strength, living bravely and warm against eternal ice. He is the unrivaled master of existence of this icebound solitude." — John Muir, 1881.

You are invited to join me on Shearwater Journeys' charter expedition voyage to Svalbard's High Arctic, July 8 - 18, 2013.

Polar Bears Forever,
Debi Shearwater

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