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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wildlife Photography - Polar Bears, Lord Of The Arctic

The Polar bear is the largest living land carnivore, with adult males growing up to over 8 feet in length and some weighing close to one ton. It is immediately recognizable from the distinctive white color of its thick fur. The only parts of the body not covered by fur are the foot pads and the tip of its nose, which are black, revealing the dark color of the skin underneath the pelt. The neck of the Polar bear is longer than in other species of bears, and the elongated head has small ears. Polar bears have large strong limbs and huge front paws which are used as paddles for swimming. The toes are not webbed, but are excellent for walking on snow as they bear non-retractable claws which dig into the snow like ice-picks.

Females are about half the size of males, although a pregnant female with stored fat can exceed 1,000 pounds in weight. They usually give birth to two, sometimes three cubs but the survival rate for first year cubs are no better than 50 percent. Polar bear cubs weigh about 2 lbs at birth. They look similar in appearance to adults, though they have much thinner fur.

Polar bears are found throughout the circumpolar Arctic on ice-covered waters, from Canada, to Norway, parts of the US, the former USSR and Greenland. The furthest south the Polar bears occur all year round is James Bay in Canada, which is about the same latitude as London. During the winter, when the ice extends further south, Polar bears move as far south as Newfoundland and into the northern Bering Sea. A few accessible places to photograph Polar Bears are the Canadian tundra, Barter Island in the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago inside the Arctic Circle.

These places are served by charter and regular airlines and local guides are readily available for bespoke and organized small group tours. The cost will not be inexpensive and the photographic equipment should be professional grade to withstand the extreme cold and wind, depending on the time of year. Seeing and photographing Polar bears closeup is one of my favorite wildlife encounters. Visit my Polar Bear page to see more photos from previous trips and see what equipment I use on my photo shoots.

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