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1Frame4Nature | Daisy Gilardini

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Polar Bears (Ursus Maritimus) hugging Wapusk National Park - Manitoba - Canada November 2008
Polar Bears (Ursus Maritimus) hugging in Wapusk National Park in Manitoba, Canada.

iLCP Fellow Daisy Gilardini‘s 1Frame4Nature: Voices from a Melting World 

Polar bears’ habitat is the Arctic. They are the only bear species classified as marine mammals as they spend most of the time hunting on the ice-covered waters of the circumpolar Arctic.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) mother with cubs - Wapusk National Park - Manitoba - Canada
At Sunset this young newborn polar bear cub decided it was time for a cuddle on mama’s back.

I have been photographing polar bears since 1999 when I first visited Wapusk National Park in Manitoba Canada. After that my love for the Polar Regions led me to the Russian Arctic including Wrangel Island, then to Greenland, the Svalbard Archipelago and the Canadian High Arctic.

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Every February/March polar bears who entered maternity dens in October and gave birth in November are ready to exit for the first time with their four-month-old cubs. The timing coincides with seals giving birth to their pups on the Hudson Bay pack ice, which means easy food for the polar bears. A newborn polar bear is hitching a ride on mama’s behind.

Polar Bears are the only bears to be truly carnivorous; with seals representing 90% of their diet they are also at the very top of the Arctic food chain. Scientists distinguish 19 different subpopulations throughout the ice-covered waters of the circumpolar Arctic. For many of these populations their life has two seasons: winter is the feasting season when they hunt seal while roaming on the pack ice, while summer is the fasting season when the absence of ice pushes the bears on to land with scarce food resources.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) mother with cubs - Wapusk National Park - Manitoba - Canada
Wapusk National Park in Canada is the southern most denning area in the world for Polar Bears. The boreal forest is rich in black and white spruce. Polar Bear newborns are playful and mama is extremely patient with them.

Today the most serious threat to polar bears is the loss of habitat due to climate change and the melting of the Arctic sea ice.

Polar Bear family. (Ursus Maritimus) Wapusk National Park - Manitoba - Canada February - March 2008
In February/March when emerging from the winter dens with their newborn cubs, weather conditions are extremes with temperatures dropping to -50C with wind chill. Storms and whiteouts are common and photography is challenging both for humans and equipment.

NASA has recorded the minimum extent of the arctic ice in September since 1979. In the last 36 years 40% has melted away.

The ice is forming later and melting earlier and as a result scientists are reporting more frequent events of cannibalism, death by starvation and death by drowning. Further stress on this species is caused by the presence of anthropogenic toxic pollutants in the Arctic food chain which culminates in the apex predator causing serious health issues like cancer and malfunction in the immune and reproductive system.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) mother with cubs - Wapusk National Park - Manitoba - Canada
Polar bears are listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN red list. Loss of the Arctic sea ice due to climate change is the most serious threat.

Documenting the life of these incredibly fascinating creatures is extremely important in order to raise public awareness. Photography is an extremely powerful tool to deliver messages. It is an universal language understood by everybody, no matter which country you are from, no matter your age, and no matter the level of education. While science provides the data to explain issues and suggest solutions, photography symbolizes these issues. Science is the brain, while photography is the heart that engages people’s emotions and can move them to action.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) mother with cubs - Wapusk National Park - Manitoba - Canada
These two young polar bear are comfortably cuddling with mama on the way to the Hudson Bay to hunt for seals.

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Comments

  1. Linda D Crowell
    United States
    May 12, 7:56 pm

    How can I get a print of the mother polar bear with the cub leaning back on her?
    Thanks, Dianne

  2. mark hopper
    Canada
    May 4, 1:23 pm

    Truly one of Canada’s Best photographers.