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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Polar Bear Mom with cubs in the wilderness of Canada

In the wilderness of Canada, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of Churchill at the Hudson Bay, is Wapusk National Park. Where icy winds create temperatures down to minus 50 degrees Celsius, polar bear mothers give birth to their cubs in dens deep in the snow. In March, when the little polar bears are 3 months old, the mother leaves the den to migrate to the ice on the Hudson Bay, because she desperately needs food after a long fasting period.
Near the park is a lodge in a converted military base. This is the starting point of serious photographers, to photograph this very special moment. But it's hard! The dens are searched with Mattrack vehicles and then after setting up the equipment patience is asked. We wait six days in front of a den at temperatures down to -48° Celsius (-54° F). Seven hours a day. It's cold, very cold and it takes patience, lots of patience. Twice a head that looks out of the den and disappears again - that's it.

Then, on the seventh day, she leaves the den. The cubs are playful and explore a world that they see for the first time after three months of darkness. A fantastic experience, which compensates for the long waiting period.

On the first day the mother makes forays in the vicinity of the den. She repeatedly stops and digs a hollow to rest and to nurse the young. We follow the mother and the cubs  in a safe distance. The photographic equipment is at the limit of functionality and I can feel the brutal cold in spite of joy and fascination.

The Hudson Bay is far away and yet the mother must go there. For too long, she has not eaten. Only on the ice, she can hunt for seals and the food it urgently needed to be able to nurse the cubs. The next day she is on her long journey.

Not only the polar bears are fascinating, but also the lonely wilderness, far away from civilization. The sunsets are spectacular and life in the lodge, without running water, is basic but cozy. The variety of food is rich and the chef does his job very well.

The clear nights offer a firework in the sky with northern lights. Churchill is located directly below the Van Allen radiation belt, where the cosmic radiation brings the Earth's atmosphere to fluoresce. At -48°C (-54°F), the photography is extremely difficult but the acting compensates for the effort.

The journey to the lodge is far, very far. Three days out and two days back. Access to the lodge is exclusive. Only a limited number of photographers are lucky enough to get a place in the lodge. The rugged wilderness has really touched me and I hope that despite the climate change it will be possible to see polar bear mothers with their cubs in the wild also in the future.


More pictures can be seen here:

1 comment:

  1. Wow - awesome pics, and awesome bears... - I hope they survive.