Today is International Polar Bear Day.
Known as ‘Nanuq,’the polar bear is revered by the indigenous people of the Arctic as wise, powerful, and even almost human.
They are referred to as the “Master of Bears.”
In fact, on a quick side note, bears as a species are considered by many wildlife biologists to be one of the most intelligent land animals of North America. Their smarts compare with that of higher primates.
Nanuq has been integral to indigenous Arctic culture for centuries. Legend speaks to the glorious white bear willingly giving up his life to the worthy hunter, and then sharing the good news with other bears so they too will be eager to be killed.
Respect was afforded a successfully hunted bear by the hunter hanging the bear’s hide in a special section of his igloo, where it would stay for several days. The bear’s soul was also offered weapons and other hunting tools if it was a male, and needle cases, scrapers, and knives if it was female. The bears allowed themselves to be killed in order to obtain the souls of these tools, which they would take with them into the hereafter.
Of all the animals traditionally hunted in the Arctic, the polar bear was of all the most prized.
Nanuq is a spectacular prize to the wildlife photographer, as well, drawing to their remote arctic homelands many amateur and professional photographers alike.
Backcountry Journeys Polar Bears of the Alaskan Arctic tour is an incredible once in a lifetime adventure where we’ll travel together via small boat to just such a place.
As the Inuit and Inupiaq hunted the bear for life sustaining food, we’ll keep our hunting relegated to sniping eye-popping images (sans hanging hides on igloo walls)
This trip will take us to an isolated Inupiaq Eskimo village, situated on the shores of the Beaufort Sea, in the heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where we’ll find and photograph polar bears as they swim, play, wrestle and forage for food along the icy shores.
We travel to photograph polar bears in September, because Fall is the optimal time of year for photographing Polar Bears in the Alaskan Arctic as they are waiting for “freeze-up” when they can begin their migrations across the vastness of the frozen Arctic Ocean. As the sea ice advances and retreats each season, individual polar bears may travel thousands of miles on a quest for food. Polar bears are distributed throughout the Arctic region in 19 sub-populations, including Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway.
While polar bears are the largest land carnivores in the world, sitting on top of the food chain in the Arctic, they are classified as marine mammals because they spend most of their lives hunting for scarce food on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean. In fact, these bears spend over 50% of their time simply hunting for food, their diet mainly consisting of seal.
It’s so cold out there on that ice, how does this majestic mammal stay warm?
A thick layer of body fat and a water repellent coat insulates them from the frigid air and water.
Considered talented swimmers, they can sustain a pace of six miles per hour by paddling with their front paws and holding their hind legs flat like a rudder. Their long neck and narrow skull aid in streamlining the animal in the water while warming the air that they breathe, and their front feet are large, flat and oar-like.
Unlike brown bears, males and non-breeding females do not hibernate in the winter. Female polar bears can produce five litters in their lifetime, which is one of the lowest reproductive rates of any mammal.
As highly evolved social animals, bears form hierarchies and have structured relationships with each other, sometimes even sharing resources. In fact, the polar bear, typically thought of as solitary, actually lives within a community of other polar bears and never loses track of other members.
And did anyone mention just how cool they look in perfectly made images?
Well, they do. They look dynamite!
Any nature photographer’s collection is incomplete until they have captured Nanuq, and we’ll be certain to do just that in Alaska, this autumn.
I’ll leave you today, kind reader/traveler/photographer friend, with this:
“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.”
~His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.