Thursday, February 26, 2015

Celebrate International Polar Bear Day

I had the incredible opportunity to travel to a remote location in the Canadian Arctic last year to photograph polar bears during the annual migration to the sea ice in Hudson Bay. Getting there required two days of travel from Los Angeles. The last leg was a one-hour flight on a bush plane under low cloud cover, landing on a 400-foot makeshift dirt strip on the tundra. 

Accompanied by other photographers and Inuit guides, we were 100 miles from the nearest settlement. To the west lay the flat, stark emptiness of the Arctic tundra; to the east, iceless Hudson Bay stretched out to the horizon. Within an hour of landing, we saw our first polar bear. Over the course of the following week, we would see male and female bears, cubs, and the occasional Arctic fox. One day greeted us with bitter cold, gale-force winds; an all-day snowstorm toward the end of the week threatened our ability to fly back out. 

As photographers, we create art, record memories or document events. Sometimes what we witness can change us as well. I had the opportunity to learn from our Inuit guides, talk to the expedition leader and stand face-to-face with polar bears. There's no question among those who live in the Arctic that the world is changing. The sea ice comes much later now and disappears sooner.  

When I returned from Nunavut, I further researched the world of the Hudson Bay polar bears. The Western Hudson Bay sub-population that I walked among has declined by a third over the past 30 years. Scientists have measured the bears now being smaller as a result of a shorter hunting season. These bears are the most southerly in the world and will be the first to become extinct.

There are only an estimated 25,000 polar bears in the wild globally, and 60% of those are in Canada. The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet. In just two or three generations of polar bears - 36 to 45 years - the total population may decline by two thirds. 

There is still time to save the polar bears. I hope that showcasing my images will encourage others to enjoy and protect what we have.