“There it is!” A fellow passenger pointed out to a vanilla-colored fur ball in the midst of the dazzling white ice field. The Arctic can play tricks on your eyes – under the glaring midnight sun and the reflective ice, it was easy to let your imagination run wild. I grabbed my coat and binoculars and rushed to the bow of the ship. To my amazement, in the middle of the vast whiteness, there was indeed an animal rolling about on ice – it was the King of the Arctic, the polar bear.
There are some experiences so extraordinary they make you cry at the wonder of it all – or at least bring a lump to your throat. The mesmerizing dazzle of the Northern Lights for example, or the first sight of a great whale. This – seeing one of the world’s largest land predators upclose and personal – was another such marvel.
An awed hush fell over the 70 odd people onboard the expedition cruise. We watched through our binoculars as the bear playfully lay on its stomach, licking its paw and peeking at us through the ice floes. As we inched closer, the polar bear stood up and approached us, leaping from one ice sheet to another with surprising agility. I watched its every move: its paws leaving a trail of footprints on ice. The animal was as curious about us as we were of him. It raised its nose in the air, sniffing out for signs of food. Lingering close to the bow of the ship, it stood just a few feet from where I was.
I held my breathe. We locked eyes. I somehow expected it to growl and roar but all it did was look down, with a glimmer of disappointment in its eyes. Seconds later, it turned around and returned into the vastness of the ice.
The encounter with the polar bear was one of the most intimate and moving experiences I’ve had in my travels. No doubt I hope to experience it again, but I can’t help but wonder: will the polar bear and the ice cap survive the next century, or decade?
Here’s a video shot from the bow of our ship, as the polar bear slowly made its way back into the ice. This was an encounter in the ice fields of Brasvellbree, along the southern coast of Nordaustlandet in Svalbard, the Norwegian Arctic.
Standing up and sniffing for food.
This experience was made possible by Gap Adventures as a part of their Wanderers In Residence program. I traveled with Gap Adventures on their Realm of the Polar Bear trip (Trip Code: XVRPNX). All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Read more about my travels in the Arctic here or follow me on Twitter with the #gadvand #WIR hashtags.