By Shannon Lane @shannonroselane

WITH paws the size of dinner plates and 42 razor-sharp teeth, it is easy to see why the polar bear is considered one of the planet’s most efficient predators

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Svalbard is a popular destination to witness polar bears in their natural habitat

The Svalbard islands, in the north of the Arctic Ocean, are home to 3,000 of the fearsome mammals.

These mammals are curious, but dangerous, and often approach boats and people

Even with a global conservation status of ‘vulnerable’, various sources report figures of between 300 and 800 of the majestic bears being killed for their fur or for sport worldwide.

Luckily these misunderstood bears continue to thrive in Svalbard, because they are protected under strict government rules.

Their giant paws are up to 30cm wide

Professional wildlife and aviation photographer Andy Rouse visited the polar bear habitat in June 2016.

He said: “A polar bear approached very close to our ship. It spent over 24 hours close to us, sleeping, walking around, then sleeping again.

Global warming is causing sea ice to melt earlier, leaving polar bears less time to hunt

“We were moored against an ice flow with the engine switched off.”

Polar bears have similar levels of eyesight and hearing to humans, but their sense of smell is far more acute.

Adult polar bears live solitary lives but are often been seen playing together

The bears can smell a seal from up to 1 kilometre away, so it is no surprise that the polar bears tracked down the group.

Polar bears actually have black skin and colourless hair, giving them a drastic white appearance

The Cardiff-based photographer said: "They came and found us! I was up there running an expedition to see them and so we were in the pack ice as that is their natural home."

These strong bears are excellent swimmers

Polar bears are the iconic symbol of Svalbard and these inquisitive animals are one of the main tourist attractions.

Standing on its hind legs, a polar bear can reach over 10 foot tall

Rouse said: “It was magical, inspiring and exhilarating to have one of the worlds most endangered and endearing animals close to us in their natural environment.

Polar bears hunt mainly at the water's edge, they only rarely catch seals on land or in open water

“It was amazing to be able to look right into their eyes. As always a wonderful experience with a truly magnificent polar bear.”