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polar bearPolar bears at the ice edge north of Svalbard
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A day in bear country

As the icebreaker Oden sailed south, the sea ice became less dense. The ice floes became smaller, and more open water began to appear between them. We were nearing the edge of the ice pack, which means we were also entering bear country. We saw nine in a 24-hour period, beginning Saturday evening. In the United States, we call them “polar bears,” but that’s a bit misleading because they don’t exist at the southern pole. (If they did, Antarctica would have as many penguins as the Arctic: none.) Polar bears and Kodiak bears are among the largest living land carnivores, but polar bears really aren’t pure land carnivores, because they spend a majority of time on sea ice. Scandinavians call them “ice bears.” But that doesn’t tell the whole story either, because the bears really live on an ocean, albeit an ice-covered one. So they are considered marine mammals. Their scientific name, Ursus maritimus, comes from the Latin words for “bear” and for “sea.” The bears are found throughout the Arctic Ocean, with their southern range limited by where the sea ice ends.

Read on about our adventure in the slideshow below. Can't see the slideshow? Get the Flash plug in »

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