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Insider Insights: Articles

Welcome to the Arctic: Day 5

(Mark Robinson)

(Mark Robinson)

By Mark Robinson
Sunday, November 24, 2013, 1:52 PM

SEE ALSO: Welcome to the Arctic: Day 4

Another bright morning, another grumpy stormchaser. I’d have been more than happy to destroy the sun at that point. Still, it was better than waking up knowing that I had to drive across Toronto to get to the office. I was pretty much at work already. I really am luck that I have the job I do. 

And then the PA crackled to life, “Good morning Ioffe. We have a polar bear just off the bow. If you …” 

The rest of what Boris had to say was drowned out as George and I exploded out of bed, grabbing clothes, gear and cameras all at the same time. In pretty much record time we were on the bow, setting up the cameras and hunting for the bear. Polar bears on ice aren’t quite what you might expect. They aren’t pure white and they move with a nonchalant kind of grace. So, when you’re looking for them, you’re looking for a butter coloured lump that’s slowly moving across the bluish white slabs of sea ice. Depending on how far away they are, that can be either really easy or really bloody difficult. 

Today it was the former. The bear was quite literally a few hundred feet away wandering across ice towards us. It seemed totally at ease for having a massive ship slowly creeping towards the ice that it was wandering across. In fact, it was moving towards us like it was curious about exactly what the heck we were. At this point, I was standing on the very top deck which was about 60 feet up and that meant that even if the bear was close, it was still a far distance down to get a good shot. So, not great for getting that classic shot of a polar bear on ice. On the other hand, I had a polar bear framed in my camera and not be cliché, but a bird in the hand and all that. 

Still, as the bear wandered closer, it didn’t seem like he was going to dive in the water or make a run for it, so I decided that I was going to try to get down to the bow deck before he ran or just got bored with us and went for a swim. I grabbed the camera which was still on my tripod and ran for it. Down the steep stairs I went, two at a time, then into the corridor, dodging people who were groggily coming out of their cabins to see the bear, then down the inner stairs, across another corridor, out a small set of stairs and then onto the bow deck. I was sure that the bear had taken off and I'd completely missed my shot at filming a bear close up. 

Not so much. 

(Mark Robinson)

(Mark Robinson)

He was standing on the edge of the ice looking at the ship about a hundred feet away. He looked bored. Yep, I was filming a bored bear now. He wandered over a few chunks of ice and then sniffed at the air. I think he was just curious about what we were and what we were doing. Or he thought we were just a really bizarre iceberg. Since he was just wandering around a bit, I spent a lot of time getting nice close up shots of him on the ice. This was just an amazing moment for me. I couldn't quite zoom up the way I wanted, but I was still getting the first polar bear shots on ice that TWN has ever had. I was more than a little pleased. Not quite sure how the polar bear felt, but he seems content enough just to watch what we were doing. 

It was only after about twenty minutes of watching the bear that Boris came on the PA again. Another bear had been spotted, but this one was a female with a cub! We make the unanimous decision that we wanted to see the cub so the captain pushed the go-closer-to-polar-bear-cub button and the ship drifted away from our first bear and towards the other side of the ice floe. 

The only problem was that both mom and the cub were way, way over the far side of a massive area of ice floes. So, getting them on camera wasn’t going to be easy. I moved the camera over to the other side of the ship as best I could. Most of the rest of the passengers had by now charged down to the deck and were crowding around the rail and were firing off shots as fast their cameras would let them.

One of the things about film making is that as exciting as shaky cam is (thank you Joss Whedon) getting a shot of a polar bear at a very long distance is an exercise in NOT making the camera move. Now, try that on a ship that’s not only moving but also bouncing off ice floes. The polar bear and her cub suddenly became a slightly off white blur and began bouncing all over the viewfinder. Not exactly riveting TV, but I was determined to nail the shot. A little bit of fooling around with the tripod and a bit of a slow down in the wave action meant that the polar blur (haha! See what I did there?) swam into focus and although they were still far away, I was able to get a decent shot of them.

And that’s when I noticed (along with everyone else) that the mother bear was constantly looking over her shoulder at something. Her cub was tucked up close and she started to move quickly across the ice. Something was clearly bothering her, but we didn’t know what. Was it us? Or was it something in the water? On the ice? 

Mathias was looking around at the ice with binoculars and I asked him if the mother was scared of us. He frowned and said, “They’re generally not concerned about ships. They pretty much seem them as big weird icebergs and don’t really pay attention to them. There’s something out there that’s bothering her. I’m not sure what is it though.” 

Then, one of the crew shouted down to us from the wing bridge, “There’s another bear over there!” 

A large male was swimming through the water towards the floe that the female and her cub was on. Mathias pointed out that male bears are really the only predator that could threaten a young polar bear. That meant that if the male caught up to the family, things might not end well. The female started to really move as the male pulled himself up onto the far end of the ice floe. She was almost to a large expanse of water well away from the male, but the little cub was having some trouble keeping up. It was trotting along as fast as it could and mom kept slowing down and looking back at both the cub and the male. She wasn’t going to leave the cub behind, but she obviously wanted to move as quickly as she could. 

The male pulled himself out of the water and up onto the ice. The female and her cub had been there only a few minutes earlier and the male began sniffing around. He was obviously very interested in the other bears but he didn’t know exactly where they were. At that moment, they were moving rapidly over a small ice bridge onto a large floe. And they were accelerating. 

(Mark Robinson)

(Mark Robinson)

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