Polar memories: Polar Bear snack bar​

I’ve finally taken the time to make a start with sorting out and categorising my photo database. I switched to digital photography in 2005, and since then, I’ve filled my database with 113448 pictures. In recent years I’ve been quite good at selecting the images I want to keep (and throwing away the others), but I didn’t do so when I just had my first digital camera. And besides, in the past 14 years, my standards have risen as well a bit, pictures I would have kept in 2005, wouldn’t make the cut now anymore. So time to go through all of that, and to add keywords so that I can find those beauties again.  A lot of work, but also fun, as you come across pictures you didn’t know you had made, or come across old memories like those of 25 August 2005.

Polar Bear- IJsbeer - Ursus maritimus
Big male Polar Bear close to the ship

I remember the day well. We had spent the night at Phippsøya, hoping the bear we had found the previous evening would wake up and give away a show. As it was still sound asleep in the morning, we headed northeast, towards the pack ice, which was just around the corner. As we sailed towards it, I wasn’t feeling well, and I decided to ask the Expedition Leader whether it was okay for me to get some extra sleep so I would be okay again in the afternoon. When I headed towards the bridge, I heard the EL on the PA that he had found a bear on an ice floe. When I made it up the three stairs, it took me to come to the bridge, four more bears were found on the same floe, and the number was still rising. Maybe not the right day to spent some hours in bed…

05-08-25_spits_071.jpg
A mother protecting her cub and chasing away another bear

By lunchtime, we had counted no less as 17 bears on the floe, males, females with and without cubs, all were present. In the middle of the floe, there was a pressure ridge with something to eat, but we never found out what it was (and we obviously never had a look). Moments like this are always one of the highlights of a season and an excellent opportunity to observe bears interacting with each other. Polar Bears are usually solitary animals and will typically only come together during the mating season. Only when there is a lot of food available, many bears will come along and feast together. Looking at the number of bears present here, we guessed that a whale got trapped in the ice and got killed, now serving as a Polar Bear snack bar. After spending a couple of hours here, we had to move on. We did give a shout to other ships in the neighbourhood, so they could come and enjoy the spectacle as well, but apart from one ship that could go right away, nobody ever found the floe again. Most likely it was broken up by the storm that picked up the following day. As it turned out, we were really at the right place at the right time.

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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