We’re now up at almost 83 degrees north, deep into the pack ice and well north of Svalbard. It’s the home of seals, walrus, polar bears and the birds that we’ve been immersed in for a few days now. As opposed to the last occasions we’ve been anywhere near this far north, the polar bear count is higher this time. It doesn’t mean anything of course, we all know what the statistics tell us of the reality. The photo opportunities abound, we just have to be conscious when moving around in zodiacs that we stay well away from the residents, let the lens do the work and DO NOT DISTURB the locals.
Apparently Svalbard itself is home to around 3,000 polar bears but surprisingly only 1 in 1,000 visitors ever get to see one. I guess that’s because almost all visitors come in the summer and at that time the sea ice has retreated well north, and while some bears summer-over on the island, many head north with the floe.
The mysticism of the polar regions is more than sufficient to enthral one with nature’s magic, and in our case keep supporting the science that informs us all of the increasingly fragile boundary it has with humankind’s sphere of influence. The science work carried out up here and in Antarctica has proved to be the world’s ‘canary in the coal mine’ providing the data of just how dramatic the impact of climate change is – ironic given the main activity in Svalbard up until recently has actually been coal mining.