By day two we had traveled north and started to head east around the top of Svalbard. We meandered through various fjords and saw lots of walrus – mostly females with young calves which was really special. We had some broken drift ice where we photographed bearded seals which are the largest of the arctic seals. They have large “cigar-shaped” bodies with small heads and long bushy moustaches.
It wasn’t until we entered “Raudfjorden” (Red Fjord) that we had a surprise. Rickard came down from the bridge to tell us to get out to the zodiacs – our first polar bear was spotted on the beach. Everyone quickly threw on their gear and grabbed their cameras. We launched the zodiacs and headed for shore. Immediately and without binoculars, the King of the North was spotted. He was purposely walking down the beach. It took a few minutes until I noticed that there was another bear! It was a smaller bear – a female – and this male apparently was in pursuit of her. I pointed her out to everyone and we were lucky to have two bears to follow – a mating pair. We were able to stay with them for almost 45 minutes while observing their mating behavior. Through observation, we guessed that they were already several days into the mating period. The male struggled to keep up with her expending a great deal of energy beneath his heavy coat. He panted, ate snow and lumbered heavily over the rocks of the beach and the deep, wet snow. Occasionally, the female would stop, and turn around to wait for him. She even would walk back to him allowing him to catch up but not approach closely. It was interesting to watch. We left them just after they walked over remaining pack ice below a massive blue glacier. I wasn’t able to get a nice image of them together for a few reasons – they were far away at this point and photographing sharp images from a moving zodiac with a long lens is a challenge. Also, the female was collared by scientists AND had a large number spray painted on her back side for easy identification from a helicopter. This destroyed any chances of her being ideal subject matter for photographers – a shame. She also had two ear tags as well – the Norwegian Polar Institute certainly covered all of their bases with this female.
~ Jami Tarris