As Captain Kenth cooked up a feast for his crew, Gunnel and I drank coffee in the mess and talked about previous polar bear cruises, with tantalising smells wafting from the galley and tantalising photographs of bears, walrus and glaciers gazing down on us. We discussed how the polar bear population in Svalbard has maintained promisingly consistent numbers, and if anything is increasing! It is difficult to track the bears to a precise degree and they don’t tag them anymore, but the estimated number is between 3500 and 5000 bears!
Obviously a passion of Captain Kenth, he would duck out of the galley intermittently to offer advice and stories. Early in the season is good for birds and fatter bears, but later in the season it is easier to find bears as they are limited to the smaller lumps of ice and you can access the wild east coast where high numbers of bears tend to hunt. It is also great for coming across strange sights as the ‘polar bear canteen’; an incident when Kenth came across 24 bears on one small island, feasting on a huge whale carcass together. Normally anti-social creatures this is a very peculiar sight indeed, and with the benefits of the small ship getting so close, they could hear the visceral sounds of munching and slurping bears, and watch the bloated sleeping bears, replete from their turn at the banquet!