As you might recall, this post is supposed to be about kayaking. All right, I know what you’re thinking … did she kayak with the polar bears? Well, of course not! But in celebration of Polar Bear Week 2016 (Oct. 30 thru Nov. 5), I decided to share another installment of polar bear images this week. The kayaking adventure hasn’t been forgotten though, so stay tuned.
So last year, I traveled (on my own mind you) to Barter Island and Kaktovik where I spent 5 glorious days photographing amazing polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska. Three earlier posts relating stories and images (March 14, 2016; March 22, 2016; & April 18, 2016) have already been published. But there was more …
Enter the polar bear ….
Such fascinating bears … bears that I had always dreamed of seeing one day … though I really didn’t think that I actually would see them in person … in the wild … myself. I was immediately impressed by their size, their thick coats, and their very large paws. Some things never change, as I’ve always been fascinated by bear paws and claws. 🙂 What I was suprised to see was how social they were amongst each other. They tended to congregate together and, for the most part, they were quite peaceful.I don’t think that I ever saw any fighting amongst them. Like other bears, some were clearly the more dominant ones, while others played the encounters and interactions in a much more submissive way. Another interesting observation that I made was how the sows seemed to gather together and take turns (I would imagine only to some extent) supervising over the cubs, whom played together on the icy landscape. Probably one of my favorite activities that the polar bears would engage in was swimming in the sea. It was so fascinating to watch them dive under the water and emerge swimming with such efficiency and skill. Often the sub-adult bears would find each other and engage in “water play”.
At first, I was a bit nervous that the “play” would turn into something more violent. As with other subjects in nature, I prefer not to see the “tough nature scenes”. To my delight, that never occurred. The encounters were peaceful and playful with a lot of teeth barred and growling audible. It reminded me of how dogs play with each other. The proverbial “all growl and no bite”. 🙂 Sometimes they even played games of tug-o-war with each other. In this instance, a piece of driftwood was found floating in the water, which is amazing since the nearest trees are about 500 miles away! Of course, just like dogs in the water or other bears for that matter, the obligatory time out for a good shake was routine. Along with the water droplets, icy particles also were thrown about during the shake. See these bears are hanging around Barter Island waiting for the ice to freeze, so that they may travel about in their hunt for seals. Yep, this duo, dubbed the “A-Team” by our group, seemed to be the best of friends.After a brief pause in the action, the playing would be repeated … over and over. I remember thinking that I would be afraid of them in the water for they are expert swimmers. I wondered if they would beeline over to us in our small fishing boat. Again, that never happened either. Yes, I was thankful. 🙂
As they would emerge from the water onto the snow covered landscape, I could only imagine how heavy they were with their fur all saturated with water. While we were there we probably photographed about 20-30 bears. Each had their own appearance and personalities. Some were solo bears. Some were sows with cubs nearby. Of course the stars of the polar bear encounters were always the cubs. They were about as carefree as possible and I remember how obedient they were as well. The cubs were also quite curious about everything around them. Whether it be a blubber remnant, a random feather, a rope, another cub, or us, they were intent on learning more. These polar bear moms were amazing moms too. I’ve been around different types of bears and no moms have ever seemed as patient and kind. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t practice discipline when they needed to. So during this Polar Bear Week, I hope that everyone out there thinks about how they can personally help to increase the awareness of the threats that these incredible creatures must endure. The rate of arctic ice melting is alarming and the encroachment of their habitat is always a concern. I could not imagine anything more sad than a world with polar bears in the wild. I’m so honored to have been in their presence. If you ever have the chance to visit them yourself … go. If not, learn all that you can about their plight and help be their voice. Thanks!There will be one more blog post on the polar bears before the end of 2016. I hope that you enjoyed the first 4 and keep an eye out for the 5th.
Next Up: As promised … let’s go kayaking!
© 2016 Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography