While scouting independently along the Hornsund coast, our expedition leader Mike Messick found a polar bear lounging on a hillside. Returning to the ship, he quickly organized an excursion for everyone to observe the bear from aboard Zodiacs. Following Mike’s lead, one Zodiac moving in line behind the other, to look as non-threatening to the bear as possible, we approached the beach. From the water we reveled in the bear’s movements, each series of lumbering steps along the path gave us a view of rear paws that looked as large as hubcaps. After assessing the situation, Mike decided we could safely disembark on shore, and made sure we kept a safe distance from the bear.
We then witnessed a marvelous interaction between the bear and an Arctic fox that was greatly concerned about the larger animal being so close to her den. For almost an hour we were transfixed by the drama playing out before us. Here was a huge, powerful, apex predator being chased and harassed by an animal one-hundredth its weight.
The fox was quick; running circles around the bear and attacking at whatever angle it could; fearlessly nipping at the bear’s back legs and feet. The protective instinct of the mother to defend her young, even at the risk of her own life, was a poignant reminder of the life or death struggles in this untouched wilderness. Finally the fox’s efforts were rewarded as the bear turned away, ate some grass, and ignoring its tormentor stretched out on the ground for a nap. The mother fox stalked away, victorious in the protection of her young.