Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Polar Bears

Polar bears are the icons of the Arctic. Each year I'm usually lucky enough to encounter a few. For a couple of years I was working as a polar bear guide in Churchill, Manitoba where each day we would go out in large vehicles custom-built to traverse the tundra with little impact. The operators have been doing this for years so the bears have become very accustomed to the presence of the bulky, but safe machines. They are high enough to keep people well above the bears while providing great access and visibility. Usually the bears ignore the vehicles entirely or take a curious interest in them and even approach. So that's how I got many of the images in the polar bear portfolio, but not all of them.

I also work as a photographer and naturalist on small ship expeditions in the Arctic. I've been doing this every year since 2002. On most of these trips we encounter polar bears. Most times they are on the ice floes in very remote locations. I've even seen them swimming in the open sea more than 50 km from any coast or ice pack.

The bear in this photo was just waking up on a crisp morning in November. It went through quite a few contortions before finally standing and ambling away. You can tell he is totally unfazed by our presence.

Note the sweet morning light that creates a lovely halo in the furry fringe outlining the contours of bear. That, combined with the antics of the bear itself, make for an unforgetable moment in Arctic life.

I'm very worried about the future of these amazing animals. Global warming is already having an impact on them. It's likely that ours is the last generation to be graced by their presence. I hope I'm wrong about this, but fear that I'm right.

I'll write more about these masters of the north in future blogs.

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