Sunday, October 11, 2009


Polar bear at tourist ship off SvalbardMany people think polar bears are cute, furry animals. In reality, they are the world's largest carnivores, and they're one of the most dangerous of humans' predators. An adult male weighs as much as FIVE football linemen (1500 lb/700kg) -- and is less smelly and much smarter.

They're one of the last of the "mega fauna", and will probably join the sabre tooth and mastodon very soon.

Polar bear visiting a ship kitchen off SvalbardThey're amazing adroit. They can swim 320km (200mi) from land, can smell prey from a mile away, and are smart enough to catch beluga whales by holding a paw over their breathing holes. They hunt via stealth, and are smart enough to catch humans if needed.

They can live past 40 years, and like to fall asleep while holding each other.

Most will be gone in another 30 years due to reduction of habitat. Arctic ice is disappearing, and with it goes the polar bear's hunting grounds.

Polar bear visiting tourist ship off SvalbardIn Svalbard, polar bears are a big danger to humans. It's easy to overstate the issue, as there have been "only" four fatal encounters in the past 35 years. This number would be much higher if there was not a huge focus on safety. Most locals are always armed, and are quick to scare bears away using flares, snowmobile backfires, and warning shots. 24 bears have been killed in defense in the past eight years. As food and hunting grounds continue to dwindle due to global warming, interactions between polar bears and humans will increase, necessitating more shootings.

I'm hoping that if Janet sees any bears, it will be from a far distance. These pictures were taken just this week - a bear visited another ship exploring Svalbard. Happily for all, and perhaps inspired by Norway's Nobel Peace Award, the interaction was non-violent.

All that being said, they're cute as dickens.

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