Bear watching (part I)

Hooded Seal

Now I work again on one of the larger motor vessels (the Sea Spirit in this case), we can spent a full day in the pack ice again. The purpose for this day, apart from the very special experience of spending time in a complete white world, is to find wildlife on the ice, especially Polar Bears. So we spent a lot of time looking through our binoculars trying to find pale yellow bits in this white world. This day the result was a bit different. During this search, we have a look at other things as well. Just after we had left a Bearded Seal on the ice, we saw another ice floe with many dark spots on it. Looking through the binoculars those spots turned out to be seals. Harp Seals are the only Arctic seal species that occurs in groups. Normally we only see them swimming in the water, but now we had them on the ice. The expedition leader decided to get a little closer. However when we had just started our approach, we found another seal on an ice floe, a bit closer. Looking through the binoculars the first thing that we noticed was the strange shape of the head. A bit a dark triangle, while the rest of the body was spotted… Even though none of us had ever seen a live Hooded Seal we new that this must be one! The last seal species on Spitsbergen that I hadn’t seen. The books teach us that they normally are shy of ships, but this one had apparently not read the book. We could slowly get closer and closer and he even put up a show for us. A really nice encounter with this rare seal in Spitsbergen!

After a while we left it as we found it and continued towards our Harp Seals. They were less cooperative though and jumped into the water long before we were any close. But three different seal species within an hour was not bad at all.

With this many seals around (we also saw many more Harp Seals swimming in the water), finding Polar Bears shouldn’t be that difficult….

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.

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s