Home Photography An icy encounter: assembly a polar bear within the Arctic

An icy encounter: assembly a polar bear within the Arctic

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This text initially appeared on The Wanderer. 

It takes a second earlier than I could make sense of the sprawling shapes of crimson projected in entrance of me. The mottled mess of blue, crimson and purple colors appear to shift in my head after which it clicks – I’m an enormous ice map of Svalbard, the frozen archipelago off the northern coast of Norway. 

Our expedition chief, Michael ‘Woodsy’ Woods, strides throughout the display with the commanding stage presence you’d anticipate from a former legal professional turned Arctic expedition chief. Contemporary from his watch above deck, the chilly makes his spherical face as crimson because the display behind him.

‘This chart right here reveals us the place we are able to discover sea ice,’ Woodsy defined. ‘With the brighter crimson areas indicating plenty of sea ice, fading down from purple to blue the place there’s little or no or no sea ice. After all, the place we discover sea ice, we additionally discover bears.’


For our expedition group, huddled within the lounge room, steaming cups of tea in hand, our course for the following few days turned clear. We would have liked to chop a path north-west by the Arctic Ocean in direction of Greenland, the place a thick crimson belt of ice protruded south from the North Pole.

It was now the second day of our Arctic journey and, whereas we’d seen loads of reindeer, Arctic foxes, puffins and even a seal, we had been but to come across the apex predator of this icy world.


Not like different land-based bears, polar bears reside nearly solely on the drifting sea ice and solely return to land when it’s time to burrow dens for his or her cubs. As a result of their habitat is set by ocean currents and the formation of sea ice, the motion patterns of polar bears is huge and unpredictable. Over the course of a yr, a single polar bear might enterprise as far west as Nunavut in Arctic Canada to as far east as northern Russia. With an enormous swathe of territory to cowl, our greatest likelihood of discovering one was to observe the ice.

The following morning I emerge, bleary eyed, onto the bridge holding a mug of watery espresso. The extraordinary round the clock daylight of the Arctic summer time means the golden hour between daybreak and day didn’t exist. It was all vivid, on a regular basis. The place yesterday there was solely countless black water, there was now a subject of fractured sea ice stretching to the horizon. A group of spotters stood on watch with binoculars, intently searching for tell-tale indicators of cream in a blue panorama.

The percentages had been wanting good, however the temper onboard was tense. Slowly the morning hours slipped by, and we patiently waited whereas the ship trawled alongside the sting of the ocean ice.


Like many issues, when the second lastly arrived it was on the most inconvenient time. The voice of Anne, our onboard marine biologist, crackled throughout the PA system as we had been all settling down for lunch: ‘Now we have a polar bear approaching the ship’. It took half a beat for the information to register, then unexpectedly everybody rose from their seat in a flurry of whipping jackets to get a spot on the bow.

Pounding coronary heart in my throat, I raced up the steps two at a time with my digital camera clutched to my chest, and burst onto the deck to search out each soul onboard (even the cooks) braced in opposition to the railing. At first I assumed it was a joke. There was nothing. However these with high-grade telescopic lenses might see the bear, and he was transferring. I don’t know whether or not he was simply very inquisitive, or maybe lured by the lunches that sat uneaten beneath deck, however he was making a fast sprint in our route.

Lots of of lenses had been skilled on the creature as he arrived. The silence was nearly reverent, damaged solely by the occasional click on of a shutter. No person needed to make a noise for worry of scaring off the bear, inflicting him to run the opposite method or dive beneath the ice. Somebody dropped their tripod, making a deep echoing clang. The bear appeared as much as establish the sound, adopted by the cicada of 100 shutters clicking in unison.

Rapidly the bear darted beneath the bow of the ship, out of view of these larger on the bridge, however immediately below my perch on the starboard aspect. Stooping to 1 knee, I watched by a porthole as he poked on the base ship, a mere few toes from me. All of a sudden, he appeared up. In that second, nose to nose with the most important marine mammal on this planet, it felt like there was a thread between us. I might see the white of his nice brown eyes and I noticed in them a childlike curiosity a world away from the ferociousness I had anticipated from Attenborough documentaries. I solely surprise what he noticed wanting again. We will need to have been an odd factor to him, a group of unusual smells and sounds he’d by no means seen earlier than.


The second was damaged when a barrel-chested man with a broad East Coast accent went to make a wisecrack – ‘Any nearer and he might as properly come…’ – however was met with a pointy refrain of shushes reminding him to be silent.

On the transfer once more, the bear traced a path down the port aspect of the boat with a parade of photographers following from above as he sniffed and padded his option to the strict. He continued transferring south, into the space, and as soon as once more out of vary of our cameras. As respectful observers on this white wilderness we didn’t pursue the animal, however by now we’d spent nearly two hours standing within the freezing chilly. Regardless of the coolness we had been all using a euphoric excessive. Later within the lounge whereas ingesting wine and consuming canapés, everyone seems to be huddled in teams evaluating their favorite pictures like college kids swapping baseball playing cards.

The most effective bit is that everybody, whether or not it was on a cellphone or knowledgeable grade digital camera, received an excellent picture. However for me, making a reference to this creature in his pure surrounds with out glass or bars between us, is one thing I’ll take with me endlessly.


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