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
A polar bear with garbage from a fishing net around its neck back in 2017. By alarming the local authoroties the garbage could be removed.

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


Svalbard April expedition 2021 onboard MS Malmö

Svalbard wildlife expedition in 2021. We are chartering the expedition ship MS Malmö for this photo tour, which is well suited for these kind of expeditions for finding Polar Bears…

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Svalbard May expedition 2021#2 onboard MS Malmö

Svalbard tour with high focus on photographing winter wildlife. Join us when we search for Polar Bears and other exotic wildlife on snow covered Svalbard. Its often good weather, and…

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Svalbard Expedition June-July 2021 onboard MS Malmö

We are preparing the expeditions for 2021 after a difficult corona year. For this summer Svalbard expedition in 2021 we are chartering the ship MS Malmö, which is well suited…

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Svalbard tour July 2021 onboard MS Villa

Explore the wonderful Arctic wilderness around Svalbard during this Svalbard extreme expedition. We are chartering the expedition ship MS Polarstar. This ship was built for extreme use in the ice…

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East Greenland cruise 2020 onboard MS Freya

A last minute announcement for an East Greenland expedition in September 2020. Join us on this Arctic adventure. Experience the landscapes and September light in the area were the biggest…

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1 SPOT (single cabin)

Svalbard exclusive expedition 2021 MS Freya

We do this exclusive Svalbard photography expedition in August onboard the expedition ship MS Freya. We plan to stay in the drift ice as much as possible on this expedition…

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Svalbard August expedition 2021 onboard MS Malmö #2

In August, 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 September 2-12 expedition 2021 onboard MS Malmö

Join us for this Svalbard wildlife photography expedition and search for the autumn light in September on Svalbard. In September a few snow patches are left from winter and the…

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Snow Leopard photography expedition 2021

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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Available places

Golden Eagle photo hides

Our Golden Eagle photo hides and Siberian Jay hides is situated in Norway mountains with snow most of the winter. The hides is surrounded by mountains and forest. We are…

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Available places

Goshawk photo hides

Our Goshawk photo hides works well and we normally have visits from one of the two adult hawks every day. The hide is comfortable with even heating system for cold…

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Have any questions?

If you have any questions or are wondering about something,
please feel free and do not hesitate to contact us at any given time.
We might be traveling some but will answer as fast as possible.