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Svalbard polar bears

During our expeditions on Svalbard we have seen Svalbard Polar Bears eating plastic, playing with plastic and being affected by garbage several times. Even on Svalbard, which is an outpost in the High Arctic, Polar Bears can not escape human stupidity.

svalbard polar bears
Polar bears chewing on black plastic on Svalbard in 2018 during one of our wildlife photo expeditions there.

Polar bears and garbage

Many think it is global warming that is the major threat to polar bears, but that’s not the only danger to them. Recent reports and sightings from other places in the High Arctic like Alaska and Russia, show that Polar Bears chew on and eat plastic if they find it. ​In an analysis of the stomach contents of 51 polar bears that had been killed by subsistence hunters in the southern Beaufort Sea between 1996 and 2018, researchers led by Raphaela Stimmelmayr, a wildlife veterinarian with Alaska’s North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, found that 25 percent of the bears had plastic in their stomachs.

svalbard polar bears
Polar bear checking out a plastic box on one of many beaches on the Svalbard archipelagoes.

Curious behavior

In the Arctic, dumps and nearby settlements are chock-full of plastic and a new survey from Alaska shows that polar bears are ingesting a lot of it. Our sightings in Svalbard, particularly on one occasion, we clearly saw that polar bear cubs eat plastic because it is something interesting to them. What would be better to do than examine a piece of black plastic when you are relaxing together with your mom far north in the high Arctic where nothing else interesting happens? In our opinion polar bears, especially cubs and young inexperienced bears, eat plastic because they are curious. It's not by accident.

Ingesting plastic can cause serious problems for polar bears because of their physiology. Polar bears have a very narrow outlet from the stomach to the small intestine and large items can cause painful blockages. Two of the bears whose stomachs were stuffed with more plastics than the other bears had behaved differently and more irritable and aggressive. These two bears did not respond to deterrents meant to chase them away.

svalbard polar bears
Polar bear caught in fishing net.

Svalbard polar bears and their future

On Svalbard plastic garbage, fishing nets, fishing equipment, ropes and different plastic items is common to see. On every beach or island, we find especially small plastic pieces and other garbage items. Too often we also find bigger items. We always try to collect the plastic we find and pick it up. For bigger items, like fishing nets which are too heavy to remove by hand, we report it to the local authorities, and they will remove it.

Upcoming Svalbard tours

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Svalbard June Expedition 2022 onboard MS Malmö #1

June is considered early summer season for Svalbard photography. Its still good ice conditions, some years its still frozen around the islands. June is considered as a more and more…

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Svalbard Expedition June-July 2022 onboard MS Malmö

For the summer Svalbard expedition in 2022 we are chartering the ship MS Malmö, which is well suited for these kind of expeditions. We have used Malmö several times before…

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2 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Svalbard tour 05 – 15 July 2022 onboard MS Villa

Explore the wonderful Arctic wilderness around Svalbard during this Svalbard extreme expedition. We are chartering the expedition ship MS Villa. Villa is recently refurbished and have a very high standard…

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Svalbard 04 – 14 July expedition 2022 onboard MS Malmö

July is a great time to experience the Arctic areas around Svalbard. More ice have melted and more remote areas will be accessible. July is one of the best months…

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Svalbard 14 – 24 July expedition 2022 onboard MS Malmö

In July, Arctic is at its explosive best. A lot of the snow has melted yet some of it remains, creating interesting patterns in the landscape. Wildlife are on the…

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Svalbard August 21 – August 31 expedition 2022 MS Origo

Arctic polar bear cruises in the early autumn to enjoy the wildlife in typically warmer weather with lengthy daylight hours but also sunsets and sunrises, providing more opportunities to see…

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10 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Svalbard September 10 – 19 expedition 2022 MS Origo

Arctic nature cruises in later autumn to enjoy the Svalbard nature and wildlife with shorter days but breathtaking sunsets and sunrises, providing more opportunities to see Svalbard's unique landscapes and…

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Svalbard August 23 – Sept 02 expedition 2022

Explore Svalbard at a time of the year when colors start to come back on the sky. This time of the year are considered as a great time to find…

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Iceland photography tour 2022

Arctic Wildlife Tours will do their first tour in Iceland in September 2021. We have planned this tour to give travellers and photographers the best possibilities to experience and photograph…

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Polar bear photo workshop Canada

Arctic Wildlife Tours is happy to announce that we will be able to offer Polar Bear photography workshops and tours in Canada. We have teamed up with some great people…

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6 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Whales and northern light 2022 #1

Onboard S/Y Arctica II we will take you on an expedition for experiencing the October light on Svalbard. Winter darkness is coming but we still have 6 hours a day…

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Snow Leopard photography expedition 2023

Arctic Wildlife Tours announces a new expedition. This time to Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary into the Tibetan mountains. We will search for these big cats living in these mountains.

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Svalbard April expedition 2023 onboard MS Freya

Svalbard travel photography on Svalbard, every day is different, and every year is different. Arctic Wildlife Tours guides leads this August expedition to Svalbard, a remote area we know well…

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4 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Svalbard June 05 – 15 2023 expedition onboard MS Malmö

June is an opportunity for good ice conditions in milder weather. 24 hour daylight makes for many hours of possible wildlife sightings. Fjords are opening up and we can get…

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10 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Svalbard expedition July-August 2023 MS Origo

Arctic polar bear cruises in the early autumn to enjoy the wildlife in typically warmer weather with lengthy daylight hours but also sunsets and sunrises, providing more opportunities to see…

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12 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Svalbard summer expedition 2023 MS Origo

Arctic polar bear cruises in the early autumn to enjoy the wildlife in typically warmer weather with lengthy daylight hours but also sunsets and sunrises, providing more opportunities to see…

Read more
12 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Svalbard August Expedition 2023 MS Origo

Arctic polar bear cruises in the early autumn to enjoy the wildlife in typically warmer weather with lengthy daylight hours but also sunsets and sunrises, providing more opportunities to see…

Read more
6 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Svalbard August expedition 2023 onboard MS Freya

Svalbard travel photography on Svalbard, every day is different, and every year is different. Arctic Wildlife Tours guides leads this August expedition to Svalbard, a remote area we know well…

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6 SPOTS AVAILABLE

Iceland photography tour autumn 2023

Arctic Wildlife Tours will do their first tour in Iceland in September 2021. We have planned this tour to give travellers and photographers the best possibilities to experience and photograph…

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East Greenland cruise onboard Polar Pioner

Join us for this Arctic adventure to East Greenland onboard the Polar Pioner. Experience the landscapes and September light and the home of some huge icebergs.

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Iberian Lynx photography tour

In December 2022 we will do a photography tour to Spain for the Iberian Lynx. After a long time without any tours we are up to do something. Join us…

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18 SPOTS AVAILABLE

South Georgia photography expedition 2023

Join Arctic Wildlife Tours guides Svein and Jens onboard the M/V Sea Spirit and visit South Georgia. As it is the first trip for Arctic Wildlife Tours visiting these parts…

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