mother polar bear and cub in Svalbard
Halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole – high above the Arctic Circle – lies the archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. A trip to Svalbard is not for the budget-conscious, so for many this might be the trip of a lifetime.
Getting to this remarkable group of islands is no easy feat: You need to travel to Norway first, then book an additional flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen. Flights to Longyearbyen only run in the summer because of climate conditions. Arctic Circle cruises are also available to the archipelago, but only during the months of June, July and August (with July the ideal month to see polar bears). Most are booked for the summer by February due to the high demand and a short cruise season.
The name Svalbard means "cold coasts" and was first mentioned in Icelandic texts in the 12th century. About 60% of Svalbard’s land mass is covered with an overwhelming number of small and large glaciers. The Norwegian government has set a goal to make Svalbard “one of the best managed wilderness areas in the world.”
Svalbard's polar bears are part of a population that inhabits the northern Barents Region, which includes Russian territory. The Barents Sea polar bear population contains 3,000+ polar bears, and approximately one-half of these bears are located on or near the islands of Svalbard.
Although the population size in the Barents area is not known precisely, it is clear that polar bears have recovered considerably in Svalbard since 1973. In 1973, the International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat, which coordinates the overall management of polar bears worldwide, was signed by all countries that have polar bear populations (USA, Russia, Canada, Greenland/Denmark and Norway).