wildlife,  NATURE,  Environment,  PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS



Polar Bear 30 crop




Ursus maritimus


David J Slater,  SVALBARD, Norway, August 2010

The iconic Polar Bear!  The largest land carnivore in the world and perhaps the most loved.  It was my privelege to be able to see the Polar Bear during my two week stay on Svalbard.  After the seasonal retreat of the sea ice, any bears remaining on land has a couple of months of hardship ahead before the sea ice returns.  This is because their usual prey, the seal, cannot so easily be hunted.  They largely rely on topping up their fat reserves by scavenging and eating vegetation such as nutritious seaweeds and mosses.



Polar Bear 26


They will often become "stranded" on land due to the timing of mating and cubbing being out of synch with the seasonal thaw. On Svalbard, denning areas are traditionally in the south, the first areas to be left ice free.  However, the bears know of many ways across land back to the northern areas where, hopefully, the ice still remains.  In 2009 the ice remained all year in the north, but in 2010 the ice all went.




Polar Bear 33 (large crop)


During the summer months of late-July to early September the Polar bears lose a lot of weight and look thin.  They have a keen sense of smell and can track down carrion over many kilometres.  This female had tracked our party down during a trip to an old hunters cabin.  Despite firing off flares to deter its approach, it persisted in coming towards us meaning a hurried retreat back to our boat.  Our leader did not allow me or the others to witness its approach so I did loose out on what could have been stunning photos.  This is one of few photographs of a polar bear I did manage from the safety of the boat some 100 metres away!





Polar Bear 29



Here is another photograph of the bear as it came into view after we had all left the beach.  Like the other photographs above, I like the environmental story of this image as it shows the loneliness of the bear and just how ice free Svalbard can be, with snow only clinging on to the highest hills.  Too many polar bear images I see are straight portraits with the only environment being white snow!  These, I think, are refreshingkly different from the norm.



Polar Bear

Polar Bear 02





Polar Bear 04 and cub (large crop)



But the most favoured shots are those of cubs.  This was the only cub I saw, and to be honest it looked weak and hungry.  The mother didn't seem too concerned and even snapped at the youngster when we saw her retrieve a piece of meat from a submerged dead whale.  The cub contented itself with seaweed!  These two photographs show the few moments when the mother seemed to take any notice of her baby.




Polar Bear 32 (crop)



Polar Bears are the doyenne of the global warming alarmists.  Often we're shown images of bears clinging to bits of ice, fearful of an ice-free Arctic, with glaciers collapsing everywhere.  People ask me what I saw and if all these fearful ideas are coming true.  As you can see from the photos and from what I learned, the image of an ice free Arctic is the usual summer coat of the bears' world.  In 2007, an international study that was outlined by the US Senate Committee on Environment (click link here) showing that the majority of polar bear populations are stable, with just a few decreasing.  At least one decreasing population, it was later discovered was due to colder weather rapidly freezing up the seal holes the bears need to feed.  The IUCN (a United Nations accredited organisation) seem to disagree in 2009 (click link here), whereas President Obama seems to think otherwise (click here).  The science is not conclusive as we are all discovering, and it's up to you to do your own research.



calving glacier

Longsfjorden 09 calving glacier


A common occurence in summer is a collapsing ice wall into the sea.  Will this image of a 20m high ice wall ever be used to deceive you that all is not well?



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