Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ready for your close-up? Using hi-tech camouflaged cameras, a new shows reveals how polar bears are adapting to their shrinking habitat


Ground-breaking: A new hour-long film, Polar Bear: Spy On The Ice, reveals new polar bear behavioural traits never filmed before

Balancing precariously on the edge of an ice-shelf, this gigantic polar bear and his cub are on the hunt for food.

As the world’s largest land carnivores, these magnificent creatures are usually happy to stick to a delicious diet of seal, able to kill them swiftly and surely with a single swipe of their huge paws.

But after six months in hibernation and with young mouths to feed, a meaty cameraman might well find himself on the menu if he gets too close.

Thankfully for John Downer, the man who captured these incredible shots, the only real peril was losing an expensive piece of camera equipment.

Action! Blizzard-cam was severely chewed by a lone passing male, which also took a dislike to another camera and crushed it under its enormous 700kg weight

Downer, who began his career at the BBC’s Natural History Unit 30 years ago at the age of 24, is now the king of the jungle when it comes to capturing creatures on camera. His work as one of the world’s top independent wildlife film-makers is pure animal magic.

To achieve this close-up insight into the life of the polar bear, Downer peppered the Arctic islands of Svalbard, north of Norway, with a range of quirkily disguised, remotely operated cameras that have become the award-winning documentary-maker’s trademark.

Created at a cost of between £30,000 and £100,000 each, the devices disguised in fibreglass ‘icebergs’ were employed to follow mothers and their cubs which, emerging from six months of darkness, needed to leave their home island and make their annual seal-hunting expedition northwards across hundreds of miles of sea ice before it thawed.

‘We filmed them over the past year,’ says Downer, ‘and it just happened to be the most dangerous time for them in a decade. The sea ice melted early, trapping one mother and cub on the barren island. Another bear we were following escaped the island with her two cubs, but then found that the melting ice floes were forcing the family to make longer and longer swims between islands of ice.’

The marooned bear and cub, starving on the island, were forced to eat grass to survive and only pulled through when a whale carcass was washed ashore. The family of escapees were more successful, sniffing out seals a metre below the drift ice.

Downer’s team followed in a small icebreaker vessel, lowering a fibreglass-encased camera known as Iceberg-cam into the water to study them in close-up.

Polar Bear: Spy On The Ice, narrated by David Tennant, BBC1, 29 December, 8pm

source: dailymail

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