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Polar Bears – Barter Island

8 November 2016

This polar bear and its cub were having a little frolic in Barter Island, waiting for the annual Whale bones to be piled up.


Barter Island, Kaktovik, is located in the far North of Alaska, a small island about four by two miles in the Arctic Circle off the Arctic coast of Alaska.  It is home to descendants of the Inupiat Inuit tribe and became a significant trading post (hence the name).  The Inupiat are still allowed to engage in whaling activities, to respect their heritage, although their catch is limited.  I find it hard to stomach whenever anyone engages in such a barbaric and unnecessary practice in this day and age, but they’re allowed to go out an hunt several whales each year, to feed themselves in their traditional way.  It’s strange, but their desire for tradition ends with the method for hunting, using explosive tipped harpoons instead of battling with traditional spears.

After stocking up their fridges on whale meat, the Inupiat pile the bones on a small patch of wasteland. That attracts hungry polar bears, who congregate on the area for a feed. The plentiful food source means they gather in larger numbers than elsewhere.  We flew up to Barter Island from Fairbanks, a lengthy flight on a small plane over stunning scenery. The stop-off in Dead-horse, a centre for the oil industry, was less scenic but necessary to navigate a snow-storm in Barter Island.


When we arrived, the weather was not as good as we would have liked, but we were certainly not disappointed with the polar bears, spotting 13 bears in a variety of individuals, mother and cubs, and young male groups.  The boat with Kaktovik Tours was cosy and became a little hairy when the weather got rougher, but we got nice and close to the bears.  All in all a great trip.




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