Svalbard and the Polar Bears

Not many people have heard of Svalbard, Norway. It’s in a remote part of the world. It is 700 miles north of the northern coast of the mainland of Norway and 800 miles south of the North Pole. It’s an archipelago of 2300 glaciers and one town. The town is Longyearbyen and is considered to be the most northerly town on the planet at 78 degrees north latitude.

How does one get to Svalbard? View this Google Earth video of the route from Denver, Colorado to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway:

           Google Earth Video of Flight From Denver to Longyearbyen


Svalbard and Longyearbyen are remote and very unique places. Check out these fun facts:

  1. Longyearbyen was founded by an American – John Longyear; Population is 2600 residents. 78 degrees north latitude. Also known for the Global Seed Vault.
  2. Town is built on stilts – melting snow and mud in the spring can make for serious flooding.
  3. Snowmobiles are the mode of transportation in the winter. Over 4000 snowmobiles for 2600 residents.
  4. Longyearbyen is surrounded by a polar bear zone. If you cross from the safety of the town into the bear zone, you must have a rifle or be driving a car. Best to have both.
Entering the Polar Bear Zone

Entering the Polar Bear Zone



5. Reindeer wander throughout town and can be found everywhere.

6. Can’t have a cat as a pet – they threaten the bird life.

7. Can’t be unemployed – it’s illegal – must show proof of employment to live there.

8. More polar bears than people on Svalbard – approximately 3000 bears as compared to 2600 residents.

9. Because of the permafrost, it is illegal to die in Svalbard. The bodies do not decompose. The last body to be buried in the Longyearbyen cemetery was in 1940.

Longyearbyen Cemetery

Longyearbyen Cemetery

Longyearbyen Cemetery

Longyearbyen Cemetery

My photography adventure started in Longyearbyen in August 2017, where I boarded a 45 meter Swedish coast guard ship outfitted for wildlife touring. We were searching for photographic opportunities:  seals, arctic foxes, reindeer, walruses, whales and, most importantly, the polar bear. We sailed for 8 days through wind, rain, fog, sunshine, calm seas, heavy seas, all around Svalbard, in fjords, in bays, around islands, on islands, near glaciers as far north as 82 degrees north latitude, all with 24 hours of  daylight per day, in search of the elusive polar bear.

 Our GPS Track In and Around Svalbard

Our GPS Track In and Around Svalbard

When the bears were sighted from the ship, the Zodiacs would be launched in minutes. We could approach quite close to a bear on the shore, as close as 25 meters at one point. With professional gear including telephoto lenses, we were able to get some amazing images.

Zodiacs Launched

Zodiacs Launched

Bear Targeted

Bear Targeted

The expedition was organized by Svein Wik, . Svein is an accomplished Norwegian wildlife photographer, organizer and chief guide for the expedition. I highly recommend a tour with Svein.

Carcass in Sight

Carcass in Sight

On A Sperm Whale Carcass

On A Sperm Whale Carcass

We traveled north into the drifting pack ice. This is the home of the polar bear, where the seals are abundant. The seal is their main food source. A single adult seal can sustain a polar bear for a week. We sailed as far north as 81.3 degree north latitude in search of this apex predator. With keen vision, the second mate spotted a yellowish discoloration standing out from the pure white “snow-bergs” a mile to our port bow. It was a polar bear pair. The zodiacs were launched, and for the next three hours we were treated to one of nature’s finest photographic opportunities:  a polar bear mother and 1-2 year old cub huddled on a “snow-berg” in beautiful golden sunset light.

How Close? - 27 meters

How Close? – 27 meters

It was past dinner time, but no one wanted to leave. We continued to shoot until cards filled up and arms became weak with fatigue. I shot over 1000 images in 3 hours. I was exhausted, both mentally and physically, and welcomed the comfort of the warm ship and hot meal.

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And a video clip of the scene:

The adventure also included photographic opportunities of arctic foxes, walruses, blue whales, bearded seals. These will be the subject of another post in the near future.

I returned to Longyearbyen a very happy photographer. It was one of my most amazing photography adventures ever. I now have an unquenchable thirst to return to Svalbard  to do it again.

This was one week of a multi-week adventure traveling in Norway with wife Beth and friends who live there. Norway is a beautiful country with beautiful people and has recently been rated the happiest country on the planet by a 2017 United Nations report. If you have not been there already, then put it on your bucket list.

To view more of my polar bear images click:

Polar Bears

To view images of our Norway trip:


~ by richardseeley on November 7, 2017.

9 Responses to “Svalbard and the Polar Bears”

  1. Great pictures and adventure. Maria and I will be taking a Baltic Cruise next summer. Basil.

    On Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 9:18 PM, Richard Seeley Photography Blog wrote:

    > richardseeley posted: “Not many people have heard of Svalbard, Norway. > It’s in a remote part of the world. It is 700 miles north of the northern > coast of the mainland of Norway and 800 miles south of the North Pole. It’s > an archipelago of 2300 glaciers and one town. The town is” >


  2. Richard,
    Absolutely great photography and narration. Loved every pic and stories. Leaving for Ukviagtik (Barrow) on Saturday


  3. GREAT pics!!!

    I like the concept of if if you don’t work you don’t live there.

    Sounds COLD – but at least a lot of sun.

    You certainly are soaring!!

    love and hugs to you both

    PS Tell Beth I have on the sweater I bought from her when she was doing the upscale clothing sales. It has finally gotten colder here – the end of the “endless summer”.



  4. Rich and Beth, This was a truly special blog and photo tour. I have been to Norway, but this was much better than my photos! Thank you so much for keeping me on your list of recipients. Just a note….the photo of a Snowy Owl that I bought from you now lives in Washington state. My dear friend I bought this for moved from Minnesota to Wash. It was one of her prized possessions she took with her to her new home. Your work is loved by more folks than you realize. I loved Beth’s blog of Alaska. Has she done more? I might have missed them. Best to both, Corkie Ramey


  5. Magnifiques photos des ours émouvantes !!!
    Région qui semble encore préservée.
    Tous nos compliments Rich pour les photos
    et la très belle descente en ski !
    Gros bisous


  6. Love those bears!!!! Just amazing. Xxspot l

    Sent from my iPhone



  7. thank you for the great comments.


  8. That was a wonderful story about your adventure! Thanks Rich cya when we get home!


  9. Phenomenal photos. You are such a talent and you have so much patience! Love your work. Kathy & Dick


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