Latest figures on the number of polar bears suggest that the Svalbard Archipelago and the Barents Sea are home to around 3,000 bears, with Svalbard acting almost as a refuge for the polar bear over the years. This is a huge positive, not just for the bears as a species, but also for specialist travel outfitters like NWS, as these days we are more than confident in regards to sightings. Some departures (on our smaller, more specialist vessels) have seen as many as 38 polar bears on an individual trip!
Our range of Svalbard polar bear tours and safaris take place between May and September, when the midnight sun reigns supreme and the ice encompassing the archipelago begins to melt, allowing us to navigate by boat. The contrast at this time between the pure white ice and the green of the fresh grasses when the snow has melted, with the flowers beginning to blossom, is well worth a visit in itself! Glaciers lean into the crisp ocean, ice floats past in massive chunks and as we push our way through we can see waterfalls pouring down sheer walls made of ice.
It is tricky to say when specifically it is best to see polar bears in Svalbard. Early in the season – during the month of May – conditions can be perfect, as the ice has not yet melted and thus the snowy white backdrops can make for a photographer's dream. Later in the season however – between August and September – the pack ice begins to melt, meaning you can push further north, cover more ground, and the polar bears are often more concentrated in the remaining icy areas. What is fair to say, is that we have led expeditions throughout the season from May to September, and that we have always spotted polar bears in the wild, putting our clients in the right place at the right time for incredible up-close encounters. One element when planning your trip that you should not underestimate, is the size of the ship. We go further north than most expeditions owing to the small size of the vessels we use (just 12-18 passenger berths); this enables us to squeeze through tight spaces, to navigate shallower waters, and explore wilder and more secluded areas, often allowing us to discover some of the favourite hideouts of the bears themselves.