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Spotting Polar Bears in the Arctic Circle


 When I woke up on Day 8 of our Norway/Arctic Circle cruise on the National Geographic  Explorer, I pulled up our room darkening shades (remember we are in the land of the mid night sun in June) and wow, I look out and see chunks of ice in the water.

I know I’m not in Kansas.  Yes, that’s a cliche but I can’t resist.

I pull on several layers of clothes and head to the Bridge.

One of the cool things about the National Geographic Explorer is that they have an open bridge.   This means that guests can hang out in the part of the boat where the captain and crew run it.   The visibility is great and it is wonderful to see the captain and crew handle our 365 foot state -of -the -art exploration  ship.

 This morning it was filled with naturalists and guests all very quietly, with binoculars glued to their noses, staring at the frozen white landscape.  Yes, we are in polar bear country.  The goal is to spot one.

They are to hard to see.  White against white. It’s very quiet and I can feel the intensity as these folks search for a bear. Some people came on this trip just to see Polar Bears.   Some one says, “I see something at 3 o’clock…..The whole group moves to that side of the bridge….and it is determined that what has been spotted is a reindeer.  (I’m happy.  How many of us have seen them in the wild? )

Reindeer, while interesting, are not what we came to see.

Soon, the quiet is replaced with an erie thumping noise accompanied with the shudder of the boat.  We are hitting ice chucks.  This ship, a former Norwegian ferry boat, has been outfitted to handle the ice but it is a little disconcerting to a fair weather sailor like me.


I get used to it though and peer off at the mountains, the snow, the ice.  Some one points out a baby seal and another bear tracks on floating ice.  I’m fascinated with the play of the light on the water, the color of the ice–blue under water– and the many reflections of the wild terrain around me.


Soon, a tiny yellow shape is spotted and identified as a bear by one of the guests (it’s a big deal–who spots the first bear of the season) and the captain turns the ship and we head towards the big fellow.

He wasn’t very active but we got close enough to see him stand up and look around a few times, than lay down for a nap.  We kept our distance, one of the principles of NG/Lindblad trips.  No stressing the wildlife.

Later,  after breakfast  I  found myself a comfy chair in the library at the top of ship, a glorious spot with floor to ceiling windows and rows of travel and wildlife books on shelving running  down the center of the room.  I settled down to read, edit photos and gaze endlessly at the spectacular and somewhat hypnotic setting. I can’t get enough of it.

 I barely got started  when our Expedition Leader made a potent announcement over the loud speaker.  “Good morning , we have just spotted another bear off the port side of the boat.”

Guests donned layers of arctic gear, grabbed cameras and binoculars and headed for the various decks to check him out.


We were not disappointed. He turned out to be a very curious bear who meandered over to us.   No sounds were heard on the various decks except for the continuous clicks of digital cameras.  Soon the ship stopped.  The captain turned off the engines.  We could savor the magic moment of seeing a polar bear in the wild, very close to the ship.  I found myself holding my breath.  Couldn’t believe that this was happening.


We watched him in his natural home, clamoring over the ice, looking up at us, taking a nap and then wandering off in search of his next meal.




 During the course of our voyage, 12 bears were spotted along with  whales, birds, seals and walruses. Truly a memorable experience.


Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    georgia gietzen
    Aug 28, 2012 Reply

    Great post Susan . . . i feel like I’m there standing beside you!! The pics, your writing . . . thank you.

  2. posted by
    Aug 28, 2012 Reply

    Stay tuned for the release of BEARTREK,a feature-length film campaigning for the preservation of the bears of the world., coming next year. It will include footage of all different species of bears, and someone close to me (NOT ME DANG IT!) is helping with the polar bear segment next week…!

  3. posted by
    Judy Bereza
    Aug 28, 2012 Reply

    Beautiful photos, Susan. The last one is a stunner!

  4. posted by
    Marie Preston
    Aug 28, 2012 Reply

    WOW! Made me almost hold my breath!

  5. posted by
    Franziska Iseli
    Aug 29, 2012 Reply

    Again, great blog, different perspective than I had. I really enjoyed all your blogs. Is this already the end?
    P.S. My first comment seem to have been deleted. How can that be?

  6. posted by
    Diane Hedeman
    Aug 29, 2012 Reply

    I feel as though I’m with you, holding my breath as well. Thank you!!

  7. posted by
    Leah Missbach Day
    Aug 31, 2012 Reply

    Such beauty. Amazing photography. Love your stories Susan. As Georgina says, you bring us right there alongside you. I wonder though, are we supposed to see this much ice detached from the mainland? Climate change is moving fast! Our family needs to make this journey ASAP!

  8. posted by
    Sep 1, 2012 Reply

    Fascinating story and gorgeoous photography. Thank you for your gift of sharing your travels with us!

  9. posted by
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    Sep 17, 2012 Reply

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  10. posted by
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    Feb 11, 2015 Reply

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