Unfortunately there are still irresponsible cruise leaders who pursue fleeing bears in the water or on ice with the ship as a tourist attraction. Just as deplorable are photographers who pursue ‘Arctic adventure’ footage.
Bears who accidentally come into contact with ships in this way are fed to stimulate photo-opportunities. This is nonsense; anyone in the know will immediately recognise the artificiality of the pose, typically photographed from above, stretching up on its hind legs. There have also been cases where cubs were separated from their mother by careless snowmobile drivers.
It may be that it is helpful to our disturbed ecologies at home to occasionally feed wild animals, but in such undisturbed spaces as the Arctic our interference cannot be justified. With polar bears, such cheap thrills risk the lives of bears and people. Bears habituated to the presence of people, and their food, can climb aboard small ships, bringing about a situation requiring drastic self-defence.
Alternatively they will remember that the presence of people means good eating, becoming a danger for people they meet later in other situations. Passengers who allow or encourage tour leaders to act in this way are morally jointly responsible for any consequences. Are a couple of unnatural photos worth the death of a bear or a person? In the realm of the bear there is always some residual risk; it is irresponsible to increase these risks artificially. Show your awareness: protest strongly! Make sure when booking your tour that no wild animals will be fed.
Disturbing and feeding bears is in any event forbidden by law and can result in seriously high fines.
(Photo: © Incredible Arctic, Shutterstock)
Learn more about responsible tourism in our guide to Svalbard: