Polar Bear Safety in Svalbard and Franz Josef Land
To see a polar bear in the wild is at the top of many people’s must-do lists.
While polar bear attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, they can happen. Like grizzly bears, polar bears can become aggressive when they feel their young, their food supply, or their personal security is threatened. But unlike grizzly bears, some polar bears have also been known to stalk and hunt humans as prey. That is why more extreme precautions are taken when entering polar bear country (that is, anywhere in Svalbard and Franz Josef Land).
Firstly, when the ship approaches a possible landing site, the area is thoroughly scanned by crew and staff with binoculars and spotting scopes. If there are any polar bears spotted, they will be observed and enjoyed from the safety of the ship. Or, if the situation warrants, perhaps the Zodiacs will be readied for a cruise. If no bears are spotted, then a scouting party will go ashore first to make sure no polar bears are hiding in the folds of the landscape or behind rocks. Once the area is cleared, disembarkation and landing of passengers via Zodiac may commence. From vantage points on shore and on the ship, staff and crew continue to keep a constant lookout for approaching bears. Shore staff are armed with high-powered rifles, with which they have training. You will usually have freedom to explore the area within a certain “perimeter”, which will be marked by the armed staff and/or rangers.