Who wants more arctic polar bears? I know that when I woke up on day 2 of my polar bear adventure, I sure did. Not sure, but I think that I dreamed about them all night. What would it be like today? We wanted to vary our opportunities photographing them, so we woke up very early to get out on the water for sunrise. What an amazing sunrise it was too!
Not surprising, we weren’t the only ones who woke up in the wee hours to greet the early light. The first sighting of the day involved this cub duo who were frolicking on the shoreline. I couldn’t believe how fabulous they looked with that sun highlighting the texture in their fur. They played for quite some time and then ran off in search of their mom. Of course, their mom wasn’t far away and was keeping a keen eye on their location and activity. She too was basking in that wonderful sunlight … in that crisp, cold breeze. It was the arctic after all. Barter Island is located just off the coast of Kaktovik. Polar bears congregate here for a few reasons. One is that they wait for the ice to form so that they may travel across it as they begin their hunt for seals and other food sources. I love seals, so I find it a bit disturbing, but such is nature. It’s all about survival. For those who do not know the whereabouts of Kaktovik, AK, it’s where the Alaskan coastline meets the arctic. Basically, where the land ends. North, there’s nothing … no more land, just the North Pole. Fascinating really. Another reason why these polar bears like Kaktovik is that it is a village of Inupiat eskimo natives, and they live off the land and sea/ocean for their food and supplies. Part of that includes the harvesting of whales (2) each year, after which the carcass is deposited at the “bone yard”. These bears know it and feed off the carcass remains when available. We didn’t visit or photograph the bone yard, as the bears that feed there tend to get that dirty look to them. These polar bears are quite entertained by each other and as mentioned earlier, the moms seem to take pride in their young and nurture them lovingly.
Sometimes, it seems like all they do is play with their young … who are more than willing to burn off some excess energy jumping, rolling, and playing. Of course, Barter Island lies right off the Beaufort Sea, so there’s plenty of water activities to entertain these bears too. Almost anything found floating in the water or sitting on the shoreline is fair game. This bear has found a stick to play with, which is remarkable, since the nearest trees are literally hundreds of miles away! The water is more like a big slush pool … and while we would be a frozen mess, they quite enjoy it! While their interactions might look ferocious, they’re more playful most of the time. Just like the brown bears who as cubs or sub-adults frolic together in the rivers or coastal waters, so do these polar bears! Lots of splashing, dunking, and posturing going on, for sure. Love it! Sometimes they play in the water with each other, but other times they just play by themselves … with or without props. Funny too, because they always seem to know where the cameras are … to our delight. When they’re not playing in the water, they’re traveling up and down the landscape. As you can see, the landscape gets littered by broken up ice chunks. Soon it will be solid ice, but luckily for us it’s still got some freezing to do. I can’t imagine how I would react to not being able to go out on our boat to visit them due to the freeze.We never got skunked from the polar bear sightings. Sure some days or times were better than others, but there was always something to photograph.
It was amazing to me to see what the cubs would unearth and begin to play with. Sometimes it was a stick or a log, other times it was a remnant of blubber from the bone pile I would assume, or even feathers from an unfortunate bird. One of the bears actually boarded a native’s boat and made off with a life ring. LOL The two cubs above found that blubber remnant and began to chew on/play with it a bit. A curious solo bear was interested in it, but the cubs mom would have none of it and defended their right to the “find”. That interaction was only 1 of 2 possible “friendly confrontations” that we witnessed in 5 days of shooting. A playful tug-of-war ensued over the ownership of the blubber … … to which the winner proudly walked off with its prize. 🙂
Some people have asked if the bears ever threatened us or if I ever felt fear from them … even I wondered it before I arrived into Kaktovik … after all, WE are in THEIR food chain. I can honestly say that I never once felt anything but pure joy, awe, and respect for these amazing bears. How could anyone not want to protect these bears for generations?
Lots more polar bear images and stories coming up, so stay tuned. 🙂
© 2015 TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy