Destination: Greenland -- Polar Bears Pass Through Town

Destination: Greenland -- Polar Bears Pass Through Town

from Larry Lunt: April 27,09

This morning was our last in Qaanaaq. During breakfast at our guest house, our host fed us one last polar bear story.

This year they have seen a record number of polar bears passing through the edge of town -- 10 sightings over the past six weeks, when it started getting light out after the long, dark Arctic winter. The reason is that the open sea is gradually moving closer to the village as the sea ice melts.

The good news for us is that it is not a dangerous time of the year for polar bear attacks. They only attack people when they are really hungry, which is only in the fall, as the winter darkness draws nearer and it becomes harder to catch seals. Even then they’re really only a risk when they haven’t eaten enough during previous months. (Polar bears need to start off the winter with a full stomach.)

At this time of the year, the females are with their babies and tend to run away from people. Males are busy looking for females and occasionally kill the babies out of jealousy. It’s also prime-time seal-hunting season -- April, May, June -- so they’re not very interested in us. They are not familiar with our smell and apparently are not attracted by our meat.

With these reassuring words, we depart on our skis pulling our 100-pound sled, which we call Moby Dick as it looks like a whale moving slowly, quietly, heavily. (I’ll send photos later.) Since we are traveling away from the open sea toward the end of the fjord, we won’t have many run-ins with bears. That means we will have to wait for when we reach the other side of the peninsula in a week for our next polar bear photo op. Just in case, we carry a gun (a Magnum 44) in the very rare case where we encounter a curious one. We don’t intend to shoot the bear. Our plan is to shoot in the air, which typically scares them away.

Enough about bears. Our first big day on skis is over now. The weather was beautiful: sunny, very little wind, temperature around zero degrees Fahrenheit (That’s about -18 degrees Celsius, and yes, that’s good weather here!). We skiied across the flat sea ice to Bowdoin Fjord, where we set up camp. Nine hours, 27 kilometers. It was a perfect day.