My First Three Polar Bear Sightings

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

There is something magical about a massive white predator that lives in a harsh icy world at the top of the world.

Polar Bears.

Heading up to Svalbard a few weeks ago we all had different images in mind that we wanted to get and our target species included Arctic Foxes, Walruses and then of course… Polar Bears.

During the next week I will be posting our official 2013 Svalbard Photo Expedition trip report but for now I thoughts I’d share a few images of our first three Polar Bear sightings.

On day three of the trip, after leaving Longyearbjen and one full day at sea we found our first bear.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Shot from the deck of our boat with a 600mm lens, this was my very first polar bear image.

The rush of seeing an animal like this in it’s natural habitat is a very unique privilege, which I can only relate to seeing your first leopard or lion in the wild, but there is something more intense about the experience.

It feels more wild, more isolated, and the fact that there was absolutely no land in sight in any direction just enhanced the feeling of what a special species we were photographing.  Special experience and something you can never take for granted.

Later that day we found our second bear.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

This big guy was out cold – pun intended – and only lifted his head when we got a lot closer.

We sat with him for a while waiting for him to change position – something we do quite often as wildlife photographers – and after a good hour or so he started getting up.

As he moved around out boat and started to make his way to who knows where I quickly went down to my cabin, which would offer me a nice low angle, and with a 600mm lens I got a nice frame filling images of this massive bear.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

We got some pretty decent images of this guy but everybody agreed that the keepers from this sightings was the ones when he was still laying down on the ice which not only hid the dark marks on his backside but the ice also made for some great natural frames around his face.

A small while later we spotted our third polar bear but this particular one was not to keen on the boat so as he kept on walking away from us we decided to let him be and continued on our way.  No point in trying to photograph an animal that keeps on moving away from you.  The shots aren’t great and it’s not right to keep on stressing the animal.

Then we found it…

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

This was the first image of a polar bear sighting that was one of the best wildlife sightings I have ever experienced anywhere in the world.

Two bears on a kill, amazing interaction and incredible mating rituals – all from zodiacs and in the most amazing arctic light you can imagine!

All in all we say 14 polar bears during our trip and apart from two of them we managed to get really great images of all of them.  Different angles, environments and light ultimately made for a collection of RAW images that I am sure is going to produce some of my best work to date and many of the guests on the trip echoed this sentiment about their own images.

During the next few weeks I will be traveling to Madikwe and the Masai Mara for both private photo guiding and photo safaris but you can be sure that in between all the African wildlife photography we will be doing I will be working through some of my polar bear and other Svalbard images.

Great memories of a photographic adventure to the top of the world.

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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Comments 0

  1. Evelyn Gibson

    Hi Gerry, fantastic, we only saw 6 polar bears when we were there a few weeks ago but yes they are fantastic to see and one feels quite emotional when you are able to capture them.

    Your images are just stunning and brings back such great memories for me.

    Thank you.

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  2. Karl Lindsay

    I agree with Morkel.. I really love that first image. Hard to imagine seeing them out there with no land around for miles! One day I would love to venture up there.. will you ever be going back?

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    Gerry

    Karl, thanks for the comment. Yes, we will most definitely be going back. Currently busy finalising details for our 2014 and 2015 trips so keep an eye on the website and FB page. Mind-blowing experience!! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Trip Report: 2013 Svalbard Photo Safari (Day 1 to 3)

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