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Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

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Pacific, Washington
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Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

This is a complicated question, my apologies! I love the polar regions and have explored the North and South, the most recent one being Antarctica which was incredible. This year I have a limited travel budget, and I'm wondering if I should do Svalbard (circumnavigation on Quark) or Churchill to view the polar bears. I would like to get as close as possible, and also view other Arctic wildlife, like foxes, walruses and birds. In terms of budget, which do you recommend?

London, United...
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21. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

The last cruises of the season from Svalbard that travel across to Iceland/Greenland have a chance to see aurora as the nights are dark enough in early September for a chance (and I've seen images taken of them from the MS Expedition two years ago) - but it's all dependent on a good solar forecast as well as perfectly clear skies. For your best chance at aurora you need a significant amount of time in one of the aurora regions - north Canada, northern Scandinavia, Iceland - to give you a chance to get high solar activity on a clear dark night. I was in Iceland during some major solar activity last year, and we only saw the lights one night out of five due to cloud cover.

The end of season cruises will also give you a chance at polar bears too, but as you're spending very little time in Svalbard it's not as high a chance as you'd have at bears with longer in the islands.

London, United...
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22. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

I've been to both Churchill Bay and Svalbard.

Churchill Bay is good if you want to get up close to bears on flat terrain; go in November flying up on a rickety plane from Winnipeg to Churchill and join one of the Tundra Buggy tours with Frontiers North. I went in 2007 in October. You are guaranteed to see Polar Bears because they gather there waiting for the ice to freeze so they can venture northwards. To get an idea what it is like watch the Ewan McGregor 2001 documentary: "The Polar bears of Churchill".

In Churchill Bay if a bear wanders into town they tranquilize him, put him in polar bear prison to starve for a bit and then fly him back out onto the ice in a net hanging from a helicopter.

Apart from looking for bears you can go dog sledding or go to the Eskimo museum.

Svalbard is more of a "Northern Lights" experience; more the kind of place I imagined bears to live.. Instead of the passive experience of being in a tundra buggy, (which is a modified school bus with monster truck wheels and painted white) you go out on snowmobiles across the ice and glimpse a bear from a safe distance. In the summer and Autumn can also go out on a ship and see them in Magdalene Fjord.

You aren't guaranteed to see them; and you never really get see them up close..

In Svalbard if a polar bear wanders near town Sysselmannen or the Polar Institute/rednecks from Hopen shoot him. Norwegians have not yet adopted the Canadian concept of polar bear prison..

If you get tired of looking for bears in Svalbard you also have the choice to snowmobile(and it is really world class snowmobiling), dog sledding, ski, hike, kayak, horseride and go to museums or swim in the local swimming pool or go down a coal mine .

United States
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23. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

Have you been yet? If not, I returned from Svalbard in July 2013 & would highly recommend it (did not circumnavigate). I'd be more than happy to answer your Qs assuming you still have them!

Fort Lauderdale...
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24. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

We travel to Churchill the end of July and are excited about the trip. We decided on Churchill based on lower cost/airfare and recognize it is different from Svalbard. Thanks for writing.

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25. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

We have been to Churchill, Manitoba when the polar bears were migrating out onto Hudson's Bay. We viewed them from tundra buggies and got some great photos. However, it is not recommended that one "walks" among them. They are ferocious animals who are known to stalk humans. Next week we will head of to Svalbard, and we are looking forward to seeing the animals and scenery there.

St Albans
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26. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

The lodge I'm staying at outside Churchill has been taking people walking among polar bears for many years, without any incident. I cant vouch for it as I haven't been yet, but if you go to the Churchill Wild website you'll find lots of photos of people standing surprisingly close to polar bears, plus a lot of information about what they do to keep you safe.

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27. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

Question: if it is so safe, why are the guides carrying rifles? Shouldn't they be carrying candy to feed the bears?

Stavanger, Norway
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for Western Norway, Stavanger
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28. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

Polar bears are wild animals, please read this article to answer you question:

telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/norway…

St Albans
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29. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

They're carrying rifles as the last line of defence. I can't remember exactly as I read it a while ago, but they've either never fired one in all the time they've been there, or they've only fired in the air once or twice. They've certainly never shot a bear with one.

Grizzly bears are wild animals too and I've been a few feet away from one grazing in a field, and she didn't care at all that I was there. And the guide - whose job it was to make sure the bear wasn't showing any signs of concern, did not have a rifle.

People go on walking safaris all the time in Africa - wild animals are potentially dangerous and need to be treated with respect, but that doesn't mean you can't go near them except in a vehicle

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30. Re: Svalbard or Churchill for Polar Bears?

I guess that last line of defense failed for the unfortunate lad in the Svalbard incident described in #28.