16 September 2011

Polar Bear Safety Lecture

When I took this picture in Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Salbard Archipelago I was standing on a carpet of fine gravel with the cold wind trying to pick out the wrinkles in my face. At the same time I was desperately trying to listen to one of the expedition team telling us what to do if we encounter a Polar Bear. I couldn’t help thinking there was one behind every rock and at the same time they must have been hungry because nothing, absolutely nothing is growing here.
The rather unconventional health and safety lecture is a rite of passage for all visitors who come to Spitsbergen and you are constantly reminded wherever you travel here that we humans are merely guests in this the kingdom of the world’s largest land carnivore.
I’m pleased to say that in many ways the bears’ lives are put before ours as there are series of strategies from shouting to large “flash/bang” flares designed to frighten the bear off, the high powered rifles carried by the guides would  only be used as a last resort.
It's a fact of life that as 'soft'  Polar expedition cruising increases the wildlife will come under more pressure but this seems to be kept to an absolute minimum as all cruise operators have to sign up to Antarctic and Arctic codes of practice. Visits here are a wondereful thing as it brings home to people the need to protect these stunning areas.
The good thing about Polar cruising is that the season is so short and numbers limited as to how many people can be where, also the winter gives the land a chance to carry on with its natural rhythms.

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