Bear watch

near Nordenskioldbreen

If you go out camping on Spitsbergen there are two ways of making sure you won’t be eaten by a Polar Bear during the night. The first is by putting trip wire around the tent, connected to alarm mines. If a Polar Bear comes too close to the camp, he will trip the wire and set off the alarm. This will give the guide (me) the possibility to scare it even further and/or shoot the bear if necessary. Two Norwegian canoers discovered that this can be dangerous as one of them was dragged out of the tent and after 40 meters his friend managed to shoot the bear. Fortunately for them they both were quite unharmed and one week later I saw both of them in the local night club drinking beer again.

The other option is to put out a bear guard at night. This system is a lot safer, as there is always someone outside on watch duty, so you will always see a bear approach.

Last week I spent five nights at a camp near Nordenskioldbreen, normally not an area with many Polar Bears, but a few days before three bears had been seen just around the corner. Because of this we opted for the last option. This meant that each of us had to be awake for two hours each night. Not really something for me, as I really like my sleep and I’m never at my best when I just wake up (especially not halfway the night). But after walking around for half an hour I really started to like these watches. The quietness, loneliness, the sounds of the birds and the glacier and the low light, the best things of Spitsbergen. No bears were seen during any of the watches, but Polar Bear prints we found a few 100 meters outside the camp proved they were in the area….

This picture was taken just after my watch had ended, with some fresh snow on the mountains.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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