In the pre-pandemic travel bliss of summer 2019, I found myself on the deck of a stunning expedition vessel, Le Boreal leaning over the railing as a huge polar bear came rambling across the sea ice directly toward the ship. So far on our journey through the vast Norwegian Arctic, we had seen a mother and two cubs far in the distance, yet this bear was coming closer and closer and all of us on deck knew something extraordinary was about to happen.
The captain pulled the ship right up next to the ice edge and in just a few minutes, we were staring into the eyes of a massive 900 pound (400 kilo) teenaged bear who seemed just as interested in us as we were in him. With all eyes and cameras trained on the bear, he came right to the ice edge and promptly sat with his front feet crossed just 30 feet below us! (That’s my photo above!)
I was literally shaking with excitement, and after watching him for a few minutes with his massive clawed feet, flat black nose, and searching, eager eyes (probably wondering if we were edible), tears suddenly poured out of me. I felt honored to be able to see this powerful, beautiful animal at such close range. I don’t cry easily and I've traveled all over the world, yet I felt something life-changing happen to me in the presence of this magnificent creature.
Now it’s 2022 and I’m running a sustainable travel company. How can I not do my part to try to protect these majestic, beautiful creatures whose Arctic home is so immediately threatened?
According to Dr. Steven Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bear International, “We must act swiftly and collectively. If greenhouse gas emissions continue as-is, the trajectory polar bears are on is not a good one…we predict most will disappear by the end of this century…but it is clear that we have time to protect polar bears, in turn benefitting the rest of life on earth, including ourselves.”
2021 wasn’t a great year for polar bears. In 2021, the Royal Society noted polar bears had lost up to 10% of their genetic diversity over the last 20 years due to the melting sea ice and their inability to breed over larger areas. This could threaten their survival due to inbreeding and lack of resiliency. According to NOAA, the Greenland Ice Sheet lost a total of 85±16 billion metric tons of ice mass between September 1, 2020 and August 31, 2021. Fortunately this was lower than the average loss happening each year, yet the loss is still quite substantial. 2021 was the 25th year in a row where Greenland has lost more ice than it gained.
What can we do about this? Here’s a free, fantastic, uplifting video class highlighting the top 100 activities we can do to start removing CO2 from the atmosphere instead of generating it by 2050. You’re bound to find an activity or two on this list you’ll actually enjoy doing! If we all do our small part, it gets done. These ideas come from Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown. This course eased my climate change anxiety so much more than anything else ever has, and it’s based on computer modeled scenarios. I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.
And, I strongly recommend that you do whatever it takes to go see polar bears, as you need to see them now or soon. If you can possibly see them on the ice, hunting seals and raising their young in their natural habitat before all this changes, do it! Bring your kids, your parents, everyone you love and you’ll consider it one of the most moving experiences of your life.
And, you’ll want to travel sustainably! Wild Nectar will help you choose a trip operator with a solid sustainability plan. Plus, we'll help you carbon offset your entire trip so you can stay in balance and not contribute to the vanishing sea ice. Check out our Sustainability Pledges here.
I traveled on this outstanding trip with a world class luxury operator now offered on L’Austral, twin sister to Le Boreal. My award-winning expedition team knew exactly where to find bears. I also highly recommend the veteran operator of Land of the Ice Bears offered on the brand-new, state-of-the-art, X-bow ship, the National Geographic Endurance. And if you’d like to stay on land, this Classic Polar Bear Adventure in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada will allow up-close polar bear viewing and photography from terrain-mastering tundra buggies.
I’ve helped hundreds of people travel to the Arctic to see polar bears. If you’d like to learn more about the kinds of trips that travel there, check out our comprehensive Arctic Guide PDF. If you’re ready to go, contact me. I’m here to help with all the details, including traveling to your gateway city, what to bring, plus Covid-19 policies and protocols. I hope you get to see earth’s majestic and precious polar bears too!