The world’s largest land predator inspires awe amongst all Arctic travellers – not least because when you’re out looking for polar bears, you’re never quite sure if there’s one out there looking for you.
Known as nanuk by the Canadian Inuit, this cuddly-looking creature is anything but. Weighing up to 550kg, they feed mainly on the blubber of seals which they catch when the seal pops up through a breathing hole in the sea ice. The bears must follow the ice; the seals live at sea, and catching a swimming seal is near impossible. Trapped or beached whales provide a rare but welcome feast – if a carcass is spotted, your ship will likely make a diversion to see if any polar bears are feeding on it.
One of the most sought-after sights is a mother with her cubs. They emerge from their dens in early spring, and make their way to the sea ice. The polar bear’s Latin name, Ursus maritimus, means sea bear, and these creatures actually spend most of their time at sea. 350km is the furthest a polar bear has ever been recorded swimming – so you’ll need to keep an eye on the sea as well as the ice floes to spot the bear!