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  Field Notes From
Polar Bears

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From Photographer

Norbert Rosing

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photograph by Mark Thiessen


Polar Bears

Field Notes From Photographer
Norbert Rosing

Best Worst Quirkiest
    Polar bears just love the sun. We had ten days where they basked in the sunlight and played all day long. I got some great shots of bears beneath trees, toying with the branches. But in all my years coming here, I have never experienced so many weather extremes as I did on this assignment. The bay froze up early the winter of 2003 and toward the end, 95 percent of the bears had left. We had heavy snowstorms with zero visibility. Then the wind would die down and the sun would come out, casting a beautiful light on the bears. I had to be fast, but it was worth it.

    It was very snowy one Sunday morning, and nobody wanted to join me in exploring a new spot. So I went by myself, which was not a good idea. I was getting some nice close-ups of a bear in the blizzard only a little more than 80 feet (25 meters) away. All of a sudden I realized that my car was stuck in the snow, and I started to panic. All of the confidence I had before was gone in a second. I was completely vulnerable to the bear.
    I grabbed a shovel and tried to dig out. If polar bears see fear in your eyes, they'll come over and push on the car windows until they break. But luckily, after a few minutes, I got out of my predicament. And the bear didn't react or come over. If he had, it could have been really dangerous.

    I arrived in the Wapusk National Park to join a small group of photographers who were going to take pictures of polar bear families coming out of their dens. We hired three local guides who'd already scouted out a den on a lakeshore that housed a mother and her two cubs.
    The next morning we got up early and traveled for about an hour to the site, which had perfect conditions for polar bear dens—huge cathedral-like snowdrifts. We looked through our binoculars and saw fresh bear tracks. So, full of high expectations, we waited, silently, about a thousand feet (300 meters) away from our dream den in windy, -27°F (-33°C) weather.
    Well, we didn't see any bears on the first day, or the second or third day either. The other photographers and I weren't sure if they were just hiding further back in their dens, so we waited for two more entire days before we started to get impatient and desperate. Finally, our guides decided to check out the den at a closer range, only to find it completely empty! I guess we'll never know if the polar bears left before we actually arrived and if we'd been waiting in front of an empty den the entire time.


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