As some of you have figured out, WC recently made a trip to Kaktovik, Alaska, in the far northeastern corner of Alaska, to photograph polar bears. We flew on Northern Alaska Tours. There’s something ironic and concerning about consuming that much fossil fuel to photograph the poster child for the consequences of global warming. The trip involves more than five hours of flying and outboard engine gas on arrival. Given the energy cost, it would be a shame not to share a few more of the photographs from the trip. Because in the next decade, you aren’t likely to see polar bears in Alaska, certainly not in the numbers currently present in Kaktovik.
The best photos are of a sow with two cubs. The cubs were curious about everything, including that weird floating thing with noisy critters on it. But before curiosity could go further, this guy’s sibling arrived and distracted him.
Mom was mostly saving her energy, but she did play with the cubs a little bit, and helped them investigate their world. There’s a surprising amount of driftwood on the barrier islands; WC assumes its came down the MacKenzie River, whose delta is less than a hundred miles east of Kaktovik. Every log was an adventure for the cubs; every root a toy.
(You’ll see some motion blur in this shot. Mom was about ten feet back of the front cub; to get everyone reasonably sharp, WC had to crank the aperture down to f22, resulting in quite a slow shutter speed.)
There were 21-22 bears altogether. Most were dirty white lumps, sleeping, well back from the shore. WC supposes its all about conserving energy util the pack ice gets near shore and seal huntnig can resume. Once in a while, one of the sleepers would deign to stretch. Like this really big boar.
One of the attractions Kaktovik has for polar bears is the bone yard, the place where the Kaktovik villagers pile whale carcasses. The bears forage on the scraps left; there’s not a lot else to eat. Actually, there’s pretty much nothing else to eat.
The barbed wire is there to get fur samples, which allow the biologists to study what the bears are eating and the level of contaminants in their bodies. The dominance games among these big boars seemed pretty low key. WC has seen the brown bears at McNeil River get into long, bloody fights over fishing privileges. In comparison, during the brief time WC was at the boneyard, disputes were pretty non-violent.
All in all, a good trip. Charismatic megafauna like these polar bears, and the risks man-made climate change is creating for them, may do more than any number of charts and graphs to persuade Americans that something has to be done. Because a world without polar bears – and that world seems to coming – would be a sadder place.