Every year in November tourists flock to Churchill to see polar bears. The bears hang around and wait for the Bay to freeze up. Once the Bay freezes over the bears are finally able to venture out on the ice and enjoy a well deserved seal buffet. At this same time, 40 miles south of Churchill in Wapusk National Park, female polar bears are giving birth to one to three cubs no bigger than a one-pound stick of butter.
In February and March, these little fluff balls are about the size of a small dog. Up to this point they have been living in a snow den about eight to ten feet below the snow’s surface for the past three months. When they are ready, mom pokes her head through the top of the den and the babies get to experience the world for the first time.
If we are lucky, we are waiting 100 meters away hoping to witness this amazing spectacle. Sometimes we wait eight hours a day for days on end staring at a hole in the snow to no avail. On those days, -40 to -50 degree temperatures are very challenging. When we do see the polar bear moms and babies they warm our hearts and we almost don’t notice the cold temperatures. That being said we still must be very cautious as -50 degree temperatures can burn exposed skin in seconds and can cause frostbite in just a few minutes.
The photography is challenging as well. Camera issues are very common. Our camera batteries can die quickly in the extreme cold and need to be rotated frequently. Our LCD camera screens and viewfinders frost over and our shutters and focusing systems slow down considerably.
The photography safari in the arctic is not like the five star African safaris where the temperatures are comfortable, there is game everywhere you look and at night you retire to an air-conditioned lodge or fancy luxury tent. Up in the arctic people can go an entire safari without seeing any animals. We have no running water and we share a small room with three strangers. Still, there aren’t many animal sightings that I have seen in the wild that are cuter, more entertaining to watch and more rewarding than seeing polar bear cubs coming out of their den.
Once the polar bear moms and cubs leave the den, they walk for a couple of hours, then nurse and rest. The cubs snuggle into what looks like the warmest arctic blanket imaginable. Mom cradles them and uses her body to shelter them from the cold. When the cubs are rested up, the babies will wake up and play until mom is ready to get up and continue on another leg of their journey. Walk, nurse, rest, play, walk and repeat. This routine continues on for the next forty or so miles until mom can get to the Bay to finally enjoy the seal buffet as well.
All Photographs Are © Greg Harvey
Greg Harvey Photographer Bio
Greg Harvey is a wildlife photographer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He enjoys nature, travel and photography. Armed with a large format printer, several camera bodies, lenses and a little imagination, he combines these passions to create wildlife prints and greeting cards from around the world.
From March 5th to 14th, 2014, Greg will be up in Wapusk National Park photographing the polar bear moms and cubs. He blogs daily. You can follow him on his blog here: http://harveywildlifephotography.blogspot.ca You can also visit his polar bear images at www.harveywildlifephotography.ca
Website: Harvey Wildlife Photography
Editorial Note: Follow Greg’s Polar Bear Safari March 5 – March 14 2014 at THIS LINK.