The two boats I toured on.
Some questions I've been asked about my polar bear trip to Kaktovik:
How close were you to the bears? Were you ever worried you're too close?
I'm kind of bad at estimating distance, but the closest was probably about 4 boat-lengths or so, and I think our boat was a 24-foot. So about 100 feet, for 6 or 7 of the bears. In some spots, the driver pulled the boat right up onto the beach, and the bears were probably about 200-300 feet from the shore. I could step off from the boat directly onto the sand. Not that he would have let me, but I was tempted a couple times! The others were probably 300-400 feet away. I never felt unsafe. In fact, I was wishing we could get closer.
How many pictures did you end up with?
2044, over a total of 18 hours of cruising. That works out to 114 pictures per hour. :-)
Are the bears there only at a certain time of year? Do they hibernate the rest of the time?
The bears are accessible to humans during a short window of about 4-6 weeks. They are drawn to this island partly for the whale carcasses, and whaling season starts Labor Day, so that's when they start showing up. Around early to mid-October, the water starts to freeze, and they disperse across the ice (their preferred habitat) and it's no longer possible to get to them by boat. So the window is early September to mid October. My guide did say they start showing up in August, but probably not as many as I saw in September.
Did you go with a group?
No, I did not use a group tour, I made my own arrangements and I was the only one on the boat. The boat hire would have been a bit cheaper with a group, but on the other hand, with group tours there is always a middleman who is taking his cut, and I like traveling solo.
Me with the bone pile in the background. I haven't gained 100 pounds, that's a one-size-fits-all floaty jumpsuit that came with the boat.